Are You Acquainted With Shaphan and His Family?

 

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WHEN reading your Bible, have you ever noticed references to Shaphan and some members of his influential family? Who were they? What did they do? What lessons can we learn from them?

The Bible introduces “Shaphan the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam” to us in connection with Josiah’s restoration of true worship in about 642 B.C.E. (2 Kings 22:3) During the following 36 years, until Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E., we are introduced to his four sons, Ahikam, Elasah, Gemariah, and Jaazaniah, and to his two grandsons, Micaiah and Gedaliah. (See chart.) “The family of Shaphan dominated the bureaucracy [in the kingdom of Judah] and held the position of king’s scribe from the time of Josiah until the Exile,” explains the Encyclopaedia Judaica. A review of what the Bible says about Shaphan and his family will help us appreciate how they supported the prophet Jeremiah and the true worship of Jehovah.

Shaphan Supports True Worship

In 642 B.C.E., when King Josiah was about 25, we find Shaphan serving as the king’s secretary and copyist. (Jeremiah 36:10) What did that involve? The above-mentioned reference work states that a royal scribe and secretary was a close adviser to the king, in charge of financial matters, competent in diplomacy, and knowledgeable in foreign affairs, international law, and trade agreements. Thus, as a royal secretary, Shaphan was one of the most influential men in the kingdom.

Ten years earlier, young Josiah had “started to search for the God of David his forefather.” Shaphan was evidently much older than Josiah and could therefore be a good spiritual adviser to him and a supporter of Josiah’s first campaign of restoring true worship.*2 Chronicles 34:1-8.

During temple repair work, “the very book of the law” was found, and Shaphan “began to read it before the king.” Josiah was shocked to hear its content and sent a delegation of trusted men to Huldah the prophetess in order to inquire of Jehovah concerning the book. The king showed confidence in Shaphan and his son Ahikam by including them in the delegation.—2 Kings 22:8-14; 2 Chronicles 34:14-22.

This is the only reference in the Scriptures to what Shaphan himself did. In other Bible verses, he is just referred to as a father or a grandfather. Shaphan’s offspring came into close contact with the prophet Jeremiah.

Ahikam and Gedaliah

As we have already noted, Shaphan’s son Ahikam is first mentioned in connection with the delegation sent to the prophetess Huldah. A reference work notes: “Although Ahikam’s title is not given in the Hebrew Bible, it is evident that he was high-ranking.”

Some 15 years after that incident, Jeremiah’s life was in danger. When he warned the people about Jehovah’s intention to destroy Jerusalem, “the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying: ‘You will positively die.’” What then developed? The account continues: “It was the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan that proved to be with Jeremiah, in order not to give him into the hand of the people to have him put to death.” (Jeremiah 26:1-24) What does this show? The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: “This incident not only attests the influence wielded by Ahikam, but also indicates that he, like other members of the family of Shaphan, was kindly disposed toward Jeremiah.”

About 20 years later, after the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. and taken most of the people into exile, Shaphan’s grandson Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, was appointed governor over the remaining Jews. Did he, like Shaphan’s other family members, care for Jeremiah? The Bible record reads: “Accordingly Jeremiah came to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam at Mizpah and took up dwelling with him.” Within a few months, Gedaliah was killed, and the remaining Jews took Jeremiah with them when they moved to Egypt.—Jeremiah 40:5-7; 41:1, 2; 43:4-7.

Gemariah and Micaiah

Shaphan’s son Gemariah and grandson Micaiah played a prominent part in the events described in Jeremiah chapter 36. The time was about 624 B.C.E., in the fifth year of King Jehoiakim. Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary, read aloud from the book the words of Jeremiah at the house of Jehovah, “in the dining room of Gemariah the son of Shaphan.” Accordingly, “Micaiah the son of Gemariah the son of Shaphan got to hear all the words of Jehovah from out of the book.”—Jeremiah 36:9-11.

Micaiah notified his father and all the other princes about the scroll, and they all wanted to hear what it said. How did they react? “Now it came about that as soon as they heard all the words, they looked at one another in dread; and they proceeded to say to Baruch: ‘We shall without fail tell the king all these words.’” Before speaking to the king, however, they advised Baruch: “Go, conceal yourself, you and Jeremiah, so that no one at all will know where you men are.”—Jeremiah 36:12-19.

As anticipated, the king rejected the message in the scroll and burned it piece by piece. Some princes, including Shaphan’s son Gemariah, “pleaded with the king not to burn the roll, but he did not listen to them.” (Jeremiah 36:21-25) The book Jeremiah—An Archaeological Companion concludes: “Gemariah was a strong supporter of Jeremiah at the court of King Jehoiakim.”

Elasah and Jaazaniah

In 617 B.C.E., Babylon took control of the kingdom of Judah. Thousands of Jews, “all the princes and all the valiant, mighty men . . . and also every craftsman and builder of bulwarks,” were taken into exile, including the prophet Ezekiel. Mattaniah, whose name the Babylonians changed to Zedekiah, became the new vassal king. (2 Kings 24:12-17) Later Zedekiah sent a delegation that included Shaphan’s son Elasah to Babylon. Jeremiah entrusted to Elasah a letter that had an important message from Jehovah to the exiled Jews.—Jeremiah 29:1-3.

The Bible record thus indicates that Shaphan, three of his sons, and two of his grandsons used their influential positions to support true worship and the faithful prophet Jeremiah. What about Shaphan’s son Jaazaniah? Unlike the other members of Shaphan’s family, he evidently engaged in idol worship. In the sixth year of Ezekiel’s exile in Babylon, or about 612 B.C.E., the prophet had a vision in which 70 men offered incense to idols at the temple in Jerusalem. Among them was Jaazaniah, the only one mentioned by name. This may suggest that he was a prominent member of this group. (Ezekiel 8:1, 9-12) Jaazaniah’s example demonstrates that being raised in a godly family does not ensure one’s becoming a faithful worshiper of Jehovah. Each individual is responsible for his own course of action.—2 Corinthians 5:10.

Historicity of Shaphan and His Family

By the time Shaphan and his family played a part in the events that took place in Jerusalem, the use of seals had become common in Judah. Seals were used to witness or sign documents and were made of precious stones, metal, ivory, or glass. Usually the name of the seal’s owner, his father’s name and, occasionally, the owner’s title were engraved on them.

Hundreds of Hebrew seal impressions on clay have been found. Professor Nahman Avigad, scholar on Hebrew epigraphy, the study of ancient inscriptions, noted: “The seal inscriptions are the only Hebrew epigraphic source that mentions persons known from the Bible.” Have any seal inscriptions of Shaphan or his family members been found? Yes, the names Shaphan and his son Gemariah appear on the seal shown on pages 19 and 21.

Scholars also say that possibly four other members of the family are referred to on seal impressions—Azaliah, the father of Shaphan; Ahikam the son of Shaphan; Gemariah the son of Shaphan; and Gedaliah, who was apparently referred to on a seal impression as being “over the House.” The fourth of these seals is considered to have belonged to Gedaliah, grandson of Shaphan, although his father, Ahikam, is not mentioned. His title on the seal impression indicates that he was one of the highest officials in the state.

What Can We Learn?

What a fine example Shaphan and his family set in using their influential position in support of both true worship and faithful Jeremiah! We too can use our resources and influence to support Jehovah’s organization and our fellow worshipers.

It is enriching and faith-inspiring for us not only to read the Bible regularly but also to dig into it and acquaint ourselves with such ancient witnesses of Jehovah as Shaphan and members of his family. They too belong to the great “cloud of witnesses” whose examples we can imitate.—Hebrews 12:1.

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Shaphan must have been much older than Josiah, considering that Shaphan’s son Ahikam was a grown man when Josiah was about 25 years old.—2 Kings 22:1-3, 11-14.

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Huldah—An Influential Prophetess

Upon hearing the reading of “the very book of the law” found in the temple, King Josiah ordered Shaphan and four other high-ranking officials to “inquire of Jehovah” about the book. (2 Kings 22:8-20) Where could the delegation find the answer? Jeremiah and possibly Nahum and Zephaniah, all prophets and Bible writers, lived in Judah at the time. The delegation, however, approached Huldah the prophetess.

The book Jerusalem—An Archaeological Biography comments: “The remarkable thing about this episode is that the male-female aspect of the story was completely unremarked. No one considered it the least bit inappropriate that an all-male committee took the Scroll of the Law to a woman to determine its status. When she declared it the word of the Lord, no one questioned her authority to determine the issue. This episode is often overlooked by scholars assessing the role of women in ancient Israel.” Of course, the message received was from Jehovah.

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Taken from: http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2002925

Book of Daniel “very dangerous” for China’s Communist leaders

China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years

The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao's death in 1976

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 Photo: ALAMY
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It is said to be China’s biggest church and on Easter Sunday thousands of worshippers will flock to this Asian mega-temple to pledge their allegiance – not to the Communist Party, but to the Cross.
The 5,000-capacity Liushi church, which boasts more than twice as many seats as Westminster Abbey and a 206ft crucifix that can be seen for miles around, opened last year with one theologian declaring it a “miracle that such a small town was able to build such a grand church”.
The £8 million building is also one of the most visible symbols of Communist China’s breakneck conversion as it evolves into one of the largest Christian congregations on earth.
“It is a wonderful thing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives us great confidence,” beamed Jin Hongxin, a 40-year-old visitor who was admiring the golden cross above Liushi’s altar in the lead up to Holy Week.
“If everyone in China believed in Jesus then we would have no more need for police stations. There would be no more bad people and therefore no more crime,” she added.
Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution. Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation. “By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule. “It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.” China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline. By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted. “Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.” Like many Chinese churches, the church in the town of Liushi, 200 miles south of Shanghai in Zhejiang province, has had a turbulent history. It was founded in 1886 after William Edward Soothill, a Yorkshire-born missionary and future Oxford University professor, began evangelising local communities. But by the late 1950s, as the region was engulfed by Mao’s violent anti-Christian campaigns, it was forced to close. Liushi remained shut throughout the decade of the Cultural Revolution that began in 1966, as places of worship were destroyed across the country. Since it reopened in 1978 its congregation has gone from strength to strength as part of China’s officially sanctioned Christian church – along with thousands of others that have accepted Communist Party oversight in return for being allowed to worship. Today it has 2,600 regular churchgoers and holds up to 70 baptisms each year, according to Shi Xiaoli, its 27-year-old preacher. The parish’s revival reached a crescendo last year with the opening of its new 1,500ft mega-church, reputedly the biggest in mainland China. “Our old church was small and hard to find,” said Ms Shi. “There wasn’t room in the old building for all the followers, especially at Christmas and at Easter. The new one is big and eye-catching.” The Liushi church is not alone. From Yunnan province in China’s balmy southwest to Liaoning in its industrial northeast, congregations are booming and more Chinese are thought to attend Sunday services each week than do Christians across the whole of Europe. A recent study found that online searches for the words “Christian Congregation”and “Jesus” far outnumbered those for “The Communist Party” and “Xi Jinping”, China’s president. Among China’s Protestants are also many millions who worship at illegal underground “house churches”, which hold unsupervised services – often in people’s homes – in an attempt to evade the prying eyes of the Communist Party. Such churches are mostly behind China’s embryonic missionary movement – a reversal of roles after the country was for centuries the target of foreign missionaries. Now it is starting to send its own missionaries abroad, notably into North Korea, in search of souls. “We want to help and it is easier for us than for British, South Korean or American missionaries,” said one underground church leader in north China who asked not to be named. The new spread of Christianity has the Communist Party scratching its head. “The child suddenly grew up and the parents don’t know how to deal with the adult,” the preacher, who is from China’s illegal house-church movement, said. Some officials argue that religious groups can provide social services the government cannot, while simultaneously helping reverse a growing moral crisis in a land where cash, not Communism, has now become king. They appear to agree with David Cameron, the British prime minister, who said last week that Christianity could help boost Britain’s “spiritual, physical and moral” state. Ms Shi, Liushi’s preacher, who is careful to describe her church as “patriotic”, said: “We have two motivations: one is our gospel mission and the other is serving society. Christianity can also play a role in maintaining peace and stability in society. Without God, people can do as they please.” Yet others within China’s leadership worry about how the religious landscape might shape its political future, and its possible impact on the Communist Party’s grip on power, despite the clause in the country’s 1982 constitution that guarantees citizens the right to engage in “normal religious activities”. As a result, a close watch is still kept on churchgoers, and preachers are routinely monitored to ensure their sermons do not diverge from what the Party considers acceptable. In Liushi church a closed circuit television camera hangs from the ceiling, directly in front of the lectern. “They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way. They want to train people to practice in a Communist way,” said the house-church preacher, who said state churches often shunned potentially subversive sections of the Bible. The Old Testament book in which the exiled Daniel refuses to obey orders to worship the king rather than his own god is seen as “very dangerous”, the preacher added. Such fears may not be entirely unwarranted. Christians’ growing power was on show earlier this month when thousands flocked to defend a church in Wenzhou, a city known as the “Jerusalem of the East”, after government threats to demolish it. Faced with the congregation’s very public show of resistance, officials appear to have backed away from their plans, negotiating a compromise with church leaders. “They do not trust the church, but they have to tolerate or accept it because the growth is there,” said the church leader. “The number of Christians is growing – they cannot fight it. They do not want the 70 million Christians to be their enemy.” The underground leader church leader said many government officials viewed religion as “a sickness” that needed curing, and Prof Yang agreed there was a potential threat. The Communist Party was “still not sure if Christianity would become an opposition political force” and feared it could be used by “Western forces to overthrow the Communist political system”, he said. Churches were likely to face an increasingly “intense” struggle over coming decade as the Communist Party sought to stifle Christianity’s rise, he predicted. “There are people in the government who are trying to control the church. I think they are making the last attempt to do that.”
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