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2 Kings 15:1-38
REIGNS OF AZARIAH AND JOTHAM OVER JUDAH; AND OF ZACHARIAH, SHALLUM, MENAHEM, PEKAHIAH, AND PEKAH OVER ISRAEL.
2 Kings 15:1-7
THE REIGN OF AZARIAH OVER JUDAS. The writer now more and more compresses his narrative. Into a single chapter he crowds the events of seven reigns, covering the space of nearly seventy years. He is consequently compelled to omit several most important historical events, which are however, fortunately supplied by the writer of Chronicles. Azariah's reign, which here occupies only seven verses, in Chronicles fills an entire chapter (twenty-three verses). (See 2 Chronicles 26:1-23.)
2 Kings 15:1
In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam King of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah King of Judah to reign. In 2 Kings 14:23 it is distinctly stated that Jeroboam's reign of forty-one years commenced in the fifteenth of Amaziah, who from that time lived only fifteen years (2 Kings 14:17). Either, therefore, Azariah must have begun to reign in the fifteenth year of Jeroboam, or there must have been an interregnum of twelve years between the death of Amaziah and the accession of Azariah. As this last hypothesis is pre-cluded by the narrative of 2 Chronicles 26:1 and 2 Kings 14:20, 2 Kings 14:21, we must correct the, twenty-seventh year" of this verse into the "fifteenth." If we do this, corresponding changes will have to be made in 2 Kings 14:8, 2Ki 14:13, 2 Kings 14:23, and 2 Kings 14:27.
2 Kings 15:2
Sixteen years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned two and fifty years in Jerusalem. These numbers are confirmed by Chronicles (2 Chronicles 26:1-3) and by Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.10. § 4), who says that he reigned fifty-two years, and died at the ago of sixty-eight. And his mother's name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem. Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.10. § 3) calls her "Achiala."
2 Kings 15:3
And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Josephus uses still stronger expressions. "Azariah was," he says (l.s.c.), "a good king, naturally just and high-minded, and indefatigable in his administration of affairs." According to the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 26:5), he "sought God in the days of Zechariah."
2 Kings 15:4
Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places.
2 Kings 15:5
And the Lord smote the king. This comes in somewhat strangely, following close upon a statement that the king "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord." We have to go to Chronicles for an explanation. By Chronicles it appears that, in the earlier portion of his reign, Azariah was a good and pious prince, and that God blessed him in all his undertakings. Not only did he recover Eloth (2 Chronicles 26:2), but he carried on a successful war with the Philistines—took Garb, Jabneh (Jamnia), and Ashdod, and dismantled them (2 Chronicles 26:6), defeated the Arabians of Gur-Baal, and the Mehuuim or Maonites (2 Chronicles 26:7), forced the Ammonites to pay him a tribute, and caused his power to be known and feared far and wide (2 Chronicles 26:8). The standing army which he maintained numbered 307,500 men, under 2600 officers, well armed and equipped with shields, spears, helmets, breast-plates, bows, and slings (2 Chronicles 26:12-14). "His name spread far abroad, for he was wonderfully helped" (2 Chronicles 26:15). This marvelous prosperity developed in him a pride equal to that of his father, but one which vented itself differently, Azariab, deeming himself superior to all other men, and exempt from ordinary rules, boldly invaded the priestly office, took a censer, and entered into the temple, and proceeded to burn incense upon the golden altar that was before the veil (2 Chronicles 26:16-18). It was then that "the Lord smote the king." As, in defiance of the high priest and his attendant train, who sought to prevent the lawless act, Azariah persisted in his endeavors, God struck him with leprosy, his forehead grew white with the unmistakable scaly scab, and in a moment his indomitable pride was quelled. The priests closed in upon him and began to thrust him out, but no violence was necessary. Aware of what had happened, "he himself also hasted to go out, because the Lord had smitten him" (2 Chronicles 26:20). It is not very clear why the writer of Kings passes over these facts; but certainly they are not discredited by his silence. At any rate, those who accept the entire series of conquests, whereof the writer of Kings says nothing, on the sole authority of Chronicles, are logically precluded from rejecting the circumstances accompanying the leprosy, which is acknowledged by the writer of Kings, and viewed as a judgment from God. So that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house. Lepers had to be separated from the congregation—to "dwell alone"—"without the camp" (Leviticus 13:46). Ahaziah's "several house" is regarded by some as an "infirmary," or "hospital for lepers" (Ewald, Gesenius, Winer); but there is no reason to believe that hospitals of any kind existed among the Israelites. The lepers mentioned in 2 Kings 7:3 are houseless. הַצָפְשִׂית בַּית is best translated "house of separation" and understood of a house standing by itself in the open country, separate from others. "Probably the house in which the leprous king lived was," as Bahr says, "especially built for him." And Jotham the Mug's son was over the house—not over the "several house," but over the royal palace—judging the people of the land; i.e. executing the royal functions, whereof "judging" was one of the highest. Azariah's infirmity made a regency necessary, and naturally his eldest son held the office.
2 Kings 15:6
And the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? For Azariah's principal acts, see the commentary on the first clause of verse 5.
2 Kings 15:7
So Azariah slept with his fathers; and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David. Here again the writer of Chronicles is more exact. Azariah, he tells us (2 Chronicles 26:23), was not buried in the rock-sepulcher which contained the bodies of the other kings, but in another part of the field wherein the sepulcher was situated. This was quite consonant with Jewish feeling with respect to the uncleanness of the leper. And Jotham his son reigned in his stead. Jotham, already for some years prince regent, became king as a matter of course on his father's demise.
2 Kings 15:8-12
REIGN OF ZACHARIA OVER ISRAEL. FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE MADE JEHU. The writer has nothing to record of Zachariah but his murder by Shallum after a reign of six months. 2Ki 15:8, 2 Kings 15:9, and 2 Kings 15:11 contain the usual formula. 2 Kings 15:10 gives the only event that needed record. 2 Kings 15:12 recalls to the reader's attention a previous passage, in which a prophecy had been mentioned, whereof Zachariah's reign was the fulfillment.
2 Kings 15:8
In the thirty and eighth year of Azariah King of Judah did Zachariah the son of Jeroboam reign over Israel in Samaria. If Azariah began to reign in the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam (verse 1), and Jeroboam died in his forty-first or forty-second year (2 Kings 14:23), Zachariah must have ascended the throne in the fifteenth or sixteenth year of Azariah. Even if Azariah became king in the fifteenth of Jeroboam, as has been shown to be probable (see the comment on verse 1), Zachariah's accession cannot have been earlier than Azariah's twenty-sixth year. An interregnum between the death of Jeroboam and the accession of Zachariah is not to be thought of. Six months. So also Josephus (see 'Ant. Jud.,' 9.11. § 1).
2 Kings 15:9
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. The customary formula, with nothing to emphasize it. In the short space of barely six months, Zachariah could not do either much good or much evil.
2 Kings 15:10
And Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him. Josephus calls Shallum Zachariah's "friend," but otherwise adds nothing to the present narrative. And smote him before the people. The phrase employed is very unusual, and has justly excited suspicion. It was not understood by the LXX; who translate ἐπάταξαν αὐτὸν Κεβλαάμ, which gives no sense. Ewald sought to solve the difficulty by inventing a king, "Zobolam," but other critics have found this expedient too bold. The rendering of our translators is generally accepted, though qobal, "before," only occurs here and in Daniel. If we accept this rendering, we must suppose that the act of violence was done openly, like Jehu's murder of Jehoram. And slew him, and reigned in his stead (comp. verse 13).
2 Kings 15:11
And the rest of the acts of Zachariah, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
2 Kings 15:12
This was the word of the Lord which he spake unto Jehu, saying, Thy sons shall sit on the throne of Israel unto the fourth generation. The direct promise was, "Thy house shall hold the throne so long;" the implied prophecy, "They shall not hold it longer." There had not been wanting other indications of the coming troubles. Hosea had declared that God would avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu (Hosea 1:4). Amos had gone further, and had openly proclaimed that God would "rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword" (Amos 7:9). The threat had been understood as a threat against Jeroboam himself (Amos 7:11), but this was a misinterpretation. The words plainly pointed, to a revolution in the time of his son. And so it came to pass. The house of Jehu ceased to reign in the fourth generation of the descendants of its founder. No considerations of prudence or of gratitude could keep the nation faithful to any dynasty for a longer time than this. In breaking off from the divinely chosen house of David, and choosing to themselves a king, the Israelites had sown the seeds of instability in their state, and put themselves at the mercy of any ambitious pretender. Five dynasties had already borne rule in the two hundred years that the kingdom had lasted; four more were about to hold the throne in the remaining fifty years of its existence. "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel," though said of Reuben only (Genesis 49:4), fairly expressed the character of the entire kingdom, with which Reuben cast in its lot at the time of the separation.
2 Kings 15:13-15
SHORT AND UNIMPORTANT REIGN OF SHALLUM. Three verses suffice for the reign of Shallum, the son of Jabesh, who held the throne for only thirty days. Hearing of his conspiracy, Menahem, the son of Gadi—"the general," as Josephus calls him ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.11. § 1)—marched from Tirzah to Samaria, got Shallum into his power, and put him to death (2 Kings 15:14). The writer concludes with the usual formula (2 Kings 15:15).
2 Kings 15:13
Shallum the son of Jabesh began to reign in the nine and thirtieth year of Uzziah King of Judah. This date follows from that of 2 Kings 15:8, and must stand or fall with it. The true accession-year of Shallum was probably the twenty-seventh of Uzziah. And he reigned a fall month in Samaria; literally, a month of days—"thirty days" according to Josephus.
2 Kings 15:14
For Manahem the son of Gadi went up from Tirzah. Ewald supposes Tirzah to have been the "native city" of Menahem; but this is not stated. According to Josephus (l.s.c.), he was commander-in-chief, and happened to be in Tirzeh at the time. (On the probable site of Tirzeh, see the comment on 1 Kings 14:17.) It was the royal city of the kingdom of the ten tribes from the later part of Jeroboam's reign to the building of Samaria by Omri (see 1Ki 14:17; 1 Kings 16:6, 1 Kings 16:8, 1 Kings 16:15, 1 Kings 16:23). And came to Samaria, and smote Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria—Josephus says that there was a battle, in which Shallum was slain—and slew him, and reigned in his stead.
2 Kings 15:15
And the rest of the acts of Shallum, and his conspiracy which he made (see 2 Kings 15:10), behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
2 Kings 15:16-22
REIGN OF MENAHEM, AND EXPEDITION OF PUL AGAINST SAMARIA. Two events only of Menahem's reign receive notice from the writer.
(1) His capture of Tiphsah, and severe treatment of the inhabitants (2 Kings 15:16).
(2) The invasion of his land by an Assyrian monarch, called "Pul" or "Phul," and his submission to that monarch's authority. Pul's retirement was bought by a large sum of money, which Menahem collected from his subjects (2 Kings 15:19, 2 Kings 15:20).
2 Kings 15:16
Then Menahem smote Tiphsah. The only town of this name known to history or geography is the famous city on the Euphrates (1 Kings 4:24), called by the Greeks Thapsacus. It has been thought that Menahem could not have pushed his conquests so far, and a second Tiphsah has been invented in the Israelite highland, between Tirzah and Samaria, of which there is no other notice anywhere. But "Tiphsah," which means "passage" or "fordway," is an unsuitable name for a city in such a situation. The view of Keil is clearly tenable—that Zachariah had intended to carry on his father's warlike policy, and had collected an army for a great Eastern expedition, which had its head-quarters at the royal city of Tirzah, and was under the command of Menahem. As the expedition was about to start, the news came that Shallum had murdered Zachariah and usurped the throne. Menahem upon this proceeded from Tirzah to Samaria, crushed Shallum, and, returning to his army, carried out without further delay the expedition already resolved upon. The Assyrian records show that, at the probable date of the expedition, Assyria was exceptionally weak, and in no condition to resist an attack, though a little later, under Tiglath-pileser, she recovered herself. And all that were therein, and the coasts thereof, from Tirzah. "From Tirzah" means "starting from Tir-zah," as in 2 Kings 15:14. It is to be connected with "smote," not with "coasts." Because they opened not to him, therefore he smote it. Determined resistance on the part of a city summoned to surrender has always been regarded as justifying an extreme severity of treatment. It is not clear that Menahem transgressed the ordinary usages of war in what he did, however much he transgressed the laws of humanity. And all the women therein that were with child he ripped up.
2 Kings 15:17
In the nine and thirtieth year of Azariah King of Judah began Menahem the son of Gadi to reign over Israel (comp. verse 13, and the comment), and reigned ten years in Samaria. So Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.11. § 1).
2 Kings 15:18
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. The writer does not seem to regard Menahem as either better or worse than his predecessors. The usual formula suffices to describe the moral and religious aspect of his reign.
2 Kings 15:19
And Pul, the King of Assyria came against the land. There is no connective in the Hebrew text, and it has been proposed to supply one; but there can be little doubt that the best emendation is that suggested by Thenius, who changes the כָּל־יָמָיו of 2 Kings 15:18 into בְיָמָיו, and attaches that word to 2 Kings 15:19. 2 Kings 15:19 will then read thus: "In his days Pul the King of Assyria came against the laud"—and no connective will be wanted. The greatest doubt has been entertained with regard to the identity of Pul, whose name does not appear in the Assyrian Eponym Canon, or in any other purely Assyrian document. But recently discovered Babylonian documents seem to prove that Pul (Pulu) was the Babylonian name for Tiglath-pileser, who reigned under that name in Babylon during his last two years, and appears in the Canon of Ptolemy as "Porus." Tiglath-pileser, the great founder of the later Assyrian empire, made himself king in B.C. 745, and proceeded to consolidate the Assyrian power on every side, after a period of great weakness and disorganization. He made several expeditions against Babylonia, and several into Syria and Palestine. The expedition in which he came into contact with Menahem is thought to have been that of his eighth year, B.C. 738. And Menahem gave Pal a thousand talents of silver. A vast sum certainly, equal to above a quarter of a million of our money, perhaps to some extent a punishment for the siege and sack of Tiphsah. But not a sum that it would have been impossible to pay. A King of Damascus, about fifty years previously, had bought off an Assyrian attack by the payment of two thousand three hundred talents of silver and twenty talents of gold. That his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand; i.e. that Pal might take him under his protection, accept him as one of his subject-princes, and (by implication) support him against possible rivals.
2 Kings 15:20
And Menahem exacted the money of Israel. Either he was not possessed of any accumulated treasure, such as the kings of Judah could commonly draw upon (1 Kings 15:18; 2Ki 12:18; 2 Kings 16:8; 2 Kings 18:15, 2 Kings 18:16), or he thought it more prudent to keep his stores untouched, and obtain the money from his subjects. Even of all the mighty men of wealth. The context shows this to be the meaning; and the rendering is justified by Ruth 2:1; 1 Samuel 9:1. "Mighty men of valor" cannot possibly be intended. Of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the King of Assyria. Fifty shekels was a heavy tax, not less than £5 or £6 of our money. To produce a thousand talents, this tax had to be levied on some sixty thousand persons. Tiglath-pileser mentions his receipt of tribute from "Minikhimmi of Tsammirin" (Menahem of Someron or Samaria), but does not tell us the amount. So the King of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land. Kings of Assyria usually returned home at the end of each campaign, and wintered in their own territory.
2 Kings 15:21
And the rest of the acts of Menahem, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? Nothing more is known of Menahem the son of Gadi, since he certainly cannot be identical with the prince of the same name who is mentioned as "Menahem of Samaria" in the inscriptions of Sennacherib. This second Menahem is probably a descendant of the first, who was allowed a sort of titular sovereignty ever the conquered town.
2 Kings 15:22
And Menahem slept with his fathers—i.e; died—and Pekahiah his son reigned in his stead. So Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.11. § 1), who calls him "Phakeias."
2 Kings 15:23-26
SHORT REIGN OF PEKAHIAH. The short reign of Pekahiah was wholly undistinguished. He held the throne for two years only, or perhaps for parts of two years, and performed no action that any historian has thought worthy of record. Our author has nothing to relate of him but the circumstances of his death (2 Kings 15:25), wherewith he combines the usual formulae (2 Kings 15:23, 2 Kings 15:24, 2 Kings 15:26).
2 Kings 15:29
In the fiftieth year of Azariah King of Judah; really in the thirty-seventh year (see the comment on verses 1, 8, and 27). Azariah is mentioned by Tiglath-pileser as contending with him in the year in which he took tribute from Menahem, which is thought to have been B.C. 738. Apparently, he too was forced to pay tribute to the Assyrian monarch. Pekahiah the son of Menahem began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned two years. So Josephus (l.s.c.).
2 Kings 15:24
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. Josephus adds that he reigned with the same cruelty as his father (τῇ τοῦ κατακολουθήσας ὠμότητι), but 'we cannot be sure that this is more than a conjecture, founded on the shortness of his reign.
2 Kings 15:25
But Pekah the son of Remaliah. Remaliah was probably a man of some importance, since Pekah seems to have been almost better known by his patronymic, Ben-Remaliah, "son of Remaliah," than by his own proper name (see Isaiah 7:4, Isaiah 7:5, Isaiah 7:9; Isaiah 8:6). A captain of his—"captain of a thousand," according to Josephus (l.s.c.)—conspired against him, and smote him in Samaria, in the palace of the king's house; literally, in the tower (or keep) of the king's house, the loftiest part (אַרְמוֹן is from רוּם, to be high)—certainly not the harem (Ewald), if Pekahiah was feasting there with his friends (δολοφονηθεὶς ἐν συμποσίῳ μετὰ φίλων ἀπέθανε), as Josephus says. With Argob and Arieh. These seem to be the "friends" of Josephus, who were with the king and shared his fate, not fellow-conspirators with Pekah. The names are uncommon ones. And with him—i.e. Pekah—fifty men of the Gileadites; fifty men of "the Four Hundred," according to the LXX. "The Four Hundred" were probably the royal body-guard, which at this time may have consisted of Gileadites. And he killed him, and reigned in his room. It does not appear that Pekah had any grievance. His crime seems to have been simply prompted by ambition.
2 Kings 15:26
And the rest of the acts of Pekahiah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
2 Kings 15:27-31
REIGN OF PEKAH. The writer is again exceedingly brief. Pekah's reign was a remarkable one, and might have furnished much material to the historian. In conjunction with Rezin of Damascus, he made war upon Judaea, defeated Ahaz with great loss (2 Chronicles 28:6), and laid siege to Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:1). Ahaz called in the aid or' Assyria, and Tiglath-pileser made two expeditions into Palestine—the one mentioned in 2 Kings 15:29, and another some years afterwards. In the latter he seems to have had the assistance of Hoshea, who, with his sanction, slew Pekah, and became king. The scanty notices of our author must be supplemented from 2 Chronicles 28:1-27.; Isaiah 7:1-9; Isaiah 8:1-8; and the Assyrian inscriptions.
2 Kings 15:27
In the two and fiftieth year of Azariah King of Judah; rather, in the thirty-ninth or thirty-eighth year (see the comment on verse 23). Pekahiah's "two years" may not have been complete. Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years. The Assyrian records make this number impossible. Tiglath-pileser's entire reign lasted only eighteen years, yet it more than covered the entire reign of Pekah. When he first invaded the kingdom of Samaria, Menahem was upon the throne; when he last attacked it, probably in B.C. 730—two years before his death in B.C. 728—he set up Hoshea, or, at any rate, sanctioned his usurpation. Pekah's entire reign must have come in the interval, which is certainly not more than one of fifteen, probably not more than one of ten years.
2 Kings 15:28
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 2 Kings 9:11. § 1) says that Pekah was an irreligious king, and a transgressor of the Law (ἀσεβής τε καὶ παράνομος). Isaiah shows how he intrigued with foreigners against his brethren of the sister kingdom (Isaiah 7:2-6). The writer of Chronicles tells of his fierce anger against the Jews (2 Chronicles 28:9), and of the dreadful carnage which he sanctioned after the great battle.
2 Kings 15:29
In the days of Pekah Feng of Israel came Tiglath-pileser King of Assyria. Tiglath-pileser's records are not in the shape of annals, and are, moreover, in a very mutilated condition. He does not date events, like most Assyrian kings, by his regal years. His first expedition into Syria is thought, however, to have been in his third year, B.C. 743, but there is no evidence that, on this occasion, he proceeded further south than Damascus, where he took tribute from Rezin. Some years after this—B.C. 738, according to Mr. G. Smith—he penetrated to Palestine, where his chief enemy was Azariah King of Judah, who had united under his sway most of the tribes as far as Hamath. After chastising Azariah, he extended his dominion over most of the neighboring states and kingdoms; and it was at this time that (as related in verse 19) he took tribute from Menahem. Subsequently he made an expedition for the purpose of conquest, which receives very scant notice, in one inscription only. This is probably the expedition of the present passage. And took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah. These were places in the extreme north of the Israelite territory, in the vicinity of the Lake Merem, such as would naturally be among the first to fall before an Assyrian invader (on their exact position, see the comment on 1 Kings 15:20). And Janoah. Janoah is now generally regarded as identical with the modern Hunin, a village close by "an ancient fortress of great strength", in the hill country northwest of Merom. It is in a direct line between Abel-beth-maa-chah (Abil) and Kedesh (Cades), as we should expect from the present passage. And Kedesh, and Hazor. Kedesh is beyond all doubt the "Kedes" or "Cades," of today—an important site in the same mountain district, rather more than six miles south of Hunin, and four from the "waters of Merom". Hazer was in the near neighborhood of Kedesh, towards the south probably. The exact position is disputed. Robinson's arguments in favor of El-Khu reibch are weighty; but the engineers employed by the Palestine Exploration Fund regard Khurbat-Harrah, between Kedesh and the Lake Merom, as a still more probable situation. And Gilead. "Gilead," in this connection, can scarcely be "the whole of the land to the east of the Jordan" (Keil, Bahr)—the territory of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh, not of Naphtali. It is more likely to be a small district near Merom, perhaps the eastern coast of the lake (Gesenius), which was afterwards a part of Gaulouitis. The LXX; instead of Γαλαὰδ, have Γαλαάν. And Galilee; Hebrew הַגָּלִילָה. The inscription of Tiglath-pileser, which appears to allude to this expedition, mentions "Galhi," and "Abel" (probably Abel-beth-maachah) as conquered at this time, and "added to Assyria." The places were, it says, on the border of the land of Beth-Omri (Samaria). And carried them captive to Assyria. Deportation of captives was largely practiced by Tiglath-pileser, as appears from the 'Eponym Canon,' pp. 118-120, and 122.
2 Kings 15:30
And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead. By a mutilated notice in the records of Tiglath-pileser, it appears that the revolution here related was the result of another invasion of the Israelite territory by that monarch. "The land of Beth-Croft," he says, " … the tribe … the goods of its people and their furniture I sent to Assyria. Pekah their king [I caused to be put to death?] and Hoshea I appointed to the kingdom ever them; their tribute I received, and [their treasures?] to Assyria I sent". It is probably this invasion of which the writer of Chronicles speaks (1 Chronicles 5:26) as resulting in the deportation of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. In the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah. This date stands in contradiction with verse 33, where Jotham's entire reign is reckoned at sixteen years, and apparently must be a corrupt reading.
2 Kings 15:31
And the rest of the acts of Pekah and all that he did (see the comment on 2 Kings 15:27-31), behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
2 Kings 15:32-38
REIGN OF JOTHAM. Once more the writer turns from Israel to Judah, and proceeds to give an account of the reign of Jotham the son of Azariah, or Uzziah, who was appointed regent in his father's place, when Uzziah was struck with leprosy (verse 5). The account given of the reign is somewhat scanty, and requires to be supplemented from Chronicles (2 Chronicles 27:1-9.).
2 Kings 15:32
In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah King of Israel began Jotham the son of Uzziah King of Judah to reign. In the second year of Pekah, Azariah died, and Jotham became actual king; but his joint reign with his father commenced very much earlier. His sole reign was probably a short one.
2 Kings 15:33
Five and twenty years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem—i.e. sixteen years from his appointment to be regent, as appears plainly from 2 Chronicles 26:23 and 2 Chronicles 27:1 (comp. Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 9.10. § 4; 12. § 1)—and his mother's name was Jerusha, the daughter of Zadok. So the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 27:1); Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.11. § 2) calls his mother "Jerasa."
2 Kings 15:34
And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord: he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. The author of Chronicles says the same, but adds, very pertinently, "Howbeit he entered not into the temple of the Lord"—i.e. he did not repeat his father's act of impiety. Josephus is still warmer in his praises. "This king," he says (l.s.c.), "was deficient in no manner of virtue; but was at once pious in things pertaining to God, and just in those pertaining to men. He was careful and watchful over the city; whatever needed reparation or adornment, he labored to supply strenuously, as the porticoes in the temple and the gates thereof; and where any part of the wall had gone to ruin, he raised it up again, and built towers of vast size and difficult to capture. And in all other matters pertaining to the kingdom, where there had been neglect, he applied great care and attention."
2 Kings 15:35
Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense, still in the high places. He built the higher gate of the house of the Lord. The "higher gate "is thought to be that towards the north, and its fortification implied a fear of attack from that quarter. It must have become amply evident to the kings of Judah, at any rate from the time of the attack on Menahem (2 Kings 15:19), that the independence of both kingdoms was menaced by Assyria, and that it was of great importance that their principal fortresses should be placed in a state of efficient defense. Azariah had paid great attention to the fortifying and arming of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 26:9, 2 Chronicles 26:15), and his son now followed in his footsteps. From 2 Chronicles 27:3 we learn that he not only built the high gate of the temple, but also "on the wall of Ophel built much," Nor was he content with fortifying the capital. He also "built cities in the mountains of Judah, and in the forests he built castles and towers." Tiglath-pileser had made war on his father. He felt that any day his own turn might come.
2 Kings 15:36
Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did. The principal event of Jotham's reign was his war with Ammon. The writer of Chronicles says, "He fought also with the king of the Ammonites, and prevailed against them. And the children of Ammon gave him the same year an hundred talents of silver, and ten thousand measures of wheat, and ten thousand of barley. So much did the children of Ammon pay unto him, both the second year, and the third" (2 Chronicles 27:5). Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.11. § 2) gives nearly the same account, but regards the payment as an annual tribute, intended to be permanent. Are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
2 Kings 15:37
In those days the Lord began to send against Judah Resin the King of Syria. Rezin's name occurs in the Assyrian inscriptions early in the reign of Tigiath-pileser, probably in the year B.C. 743. At that time he pays to the Assyrians a heavy tribute, consisting of eighteen talents of gold, three hundred talents of silver, two hundred talents of copper, and twenty talents of spices. Subsequently, about the year B.C. 734, he is found in revolt. His alliance with Pekah, here implied, is directly stated by Isaiah 7:2. Begun in Jotham's reign, it continued, and came to a head, in the reign of Ahaz (see 2 Kings 16:5 and Isaiah 7:1-9; Isaiah 8:6). And Pekah the son of Remaliah. Pekah and Rezin intended to establish on the Jewish throne a certain Ben-Tabeal (Isaiah 7:6), a creature of their own, with whose aid they thought to offer an effectual resistance to Assyria.
2 Kings 15:38
And Jotham slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father: and Ahaz his son reigned in his stead. It may be suspected that the full name of this king was Jehoahaz. Ahaz, "possession," is a name never assigned to any other Israelite, and it is one not likely to have been given by a religious father like Jotham. In the Assyrian inscriptions the Jewish king contemporary with Rezin and Pekah is called "Yahu-khazi."
2 Kings 15:1-7
The leper-king a pattern and a warning.
I. IN HIS EARLIER YEARS AZARIAH WAS A PATTERN KING. He "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 15:3); he "sought God" (2 Chronicles 26:5); he consorted with "Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God;" and the result was that "God made him to prosper," "God helped him against the Philistines and the Arabians and the Mehunim" (2 Chronicles 26:7), and he "was marvelously helped" (2 Chronicles 26:15). So far, he is a pattern to us, the model of a good king, of one who is at once religiously minded and full of practical zeal and energy, who serves God without ceasing to serve man, "not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Romans 12:11). But there is a reverse to the picture.
II. IN HIS LATER YEARS AZARIAH WAS A WARNING TO KINGS AND GREAT MEN GENERALLY. Azariah, like his father (2 Kings 14:10), became "lifted up" (2 Chronicles 26:16). He was not content with his kingly power and greatness, his secular dignity and majesty; he would be first everywhere, and invaded the priestly office (2 Chronicles 26:16-19). It had pleased God, in the theocratic polity, which he had set up, to draw the sharpest possible line between the sacerdotal order and the rest of the community. None were allowed to sacrifice, or to burn incense, or even to enter into the sanctuary, but "the priests the sons of Aaron"—the lineal descendants of the first and greatest of the high priests. Kings had their functions—great and high and (in a certain sense) sacred functions—to rule, to judge, to determine on peace or war; to lead armies, if it so pleased them; to direct the whole policy of the nation. But one thing they might not do, and that was to assume the duties, which had been assigned to the priests and Levites, who had been appointed God's special ministers, to minister to him in the congregation. The exclusive right of the priests to their functions had been vindicated in a most terrible and awful way, when, soon after the institution of the Levitical priesthood, its honors were coveted by great men who did not belong to the privileged body. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with their company, were swallowed up, and "went down quick into hell," because they claimed to be as "holy" as the priests (Numbers 16:3), and to offer incense before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, each from his own censer. The lesson taught by the miracle had been taken deeply to heart; and even such mighty monarchs as David and Solomon had carefully abstained from setting aside the privileges of the priests, or infringing upon them in any way. But Azariah despised the teaching of the past, and the example set him by his predecessors. See him as Josephus depicts him! On a great festival day, when the people had all come together in crowds to keep the feast, he robed himself in priestly garments, and entering into the sacred enclosure declared his intention of going within the temple building, and himself offering incense on the golden altar that was before the veil. In vain did the eighty priests in attendance, headed by the high priest, resist him, and exhort him to lay aside his design and retire; Azariah, hot with passion, refused, and threatened them with death if they made more ado. Then, Josephus declares, the ground suddenly rocked with an earthquake (comp. Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5), and the roof of the temple gaped, and a sunbeam entering smote upon the head of the king, and at once leprosy spread over his face, and, overwhelmed with grief and shame, he departed ('Ant. Jud.,' 9:10. § 4). Here Azariah is a warning to kings
(1) that they attempt not to minister the Word and sacraments; and
(2) that they in no way trench upon the rights of the priests or other ministers; and further, he is a warning to great men, or such as think themselves great, in less exalted positions, that they rest content with the performance of their own proper duties and do not invade the office of others; either
(1) by dictating to ministers what doctrine they shall preach; or
(2) by undue interference with schools, teachers, etc.; or
(3) by any other form of arrogant and overbearing conduct.
Punishment will assuredly fall upon those who so act. They will lose men's respect and God's approval. Failure will overtake them at the moment when they look to have their efforts crowned with complete success. Well for them if it be simply failure, and not an utter downfall. It often happens that he who covets more than he has any right or claim to have, loses that which was lawfully in his possession.
2 Kings 15:8-31
Worldly prosperity not infrequently the ruin of kingdoms.
I. EXAMPLE OF SAMARIA. Scarcely ever was there a more prosperous reign than that of Jeroboam II.—a reign of forty-one years of continual success, uncheckered by a misfortune-Syria defeated, the old border everywhere recovered, Hamath occupied, Damascus brought into a subject condition. As usual, where there is military success, wealth flowed in, and with wealth, luxury. "Great houses" were built (Amos 3:15), "ivory houses;' i.e. houses inlaid or paneled with ivory; distinct mansions were inhabited during the summer and during the winter time (Amos 3:15). The children of Israel passed their lives in Samaria, lying "in the corner of a bed," and in Damascus lounging "upon a couch" (Amos 3:12). "Flagons of wine' were "loved" (Hosea 3:1); "whoredom and wine and new wine took away their heart" (Hosea 4:11). And with this softness was blended, on the one hand, the seductive influence of a licentious religionism, on the other, the coarser and ruder vices to which luxury and self-indulgence inevitably lead. Patriotism disappeared, and self-seeking took its place. "Politically all was anarchy or misrule; kings made their way to the throne through the murder of their predecessors, and made way for their successors through their own. Shallum slew Zechariah (2 Kings 15:10); Menahem slew Shallum (verse 14); Pekah slew the son of Menahem (verse 25); Hoshea slew Pekah (verse 30). The whole kingdom of Israel was a military despotism, and, as in the Roman empire, those in command came to the throne". Society was corrupt to the core. The idolatries of the calves, of Baal, and of Moloch worked out their natural results, and bore their bitter fruit. "Creature-worship," as St. Paul points out (Romans 1:23-32), was the parent of every sort of abomination; and religion having become creature-worship, what God gave as the check to sin became its incentive. Every commandment of God was broken, and that habitually. All was falsehood (Hosea 4:1), adultery (Hosea 4:11; Amos 2:7), blood shedding (Hosea 5:2; Hosea 6:8); deceit of God (Hosea 4:2) producing faithlessness to man; excess and luxury were supplied by secret or open robbery (Hosea 7:1), oppression (Hosea 12:7), false dealing (Amos 8:5; Hosea 12:7), perversion of justice (Hosea 10:4; Amos 2:6), grinding of the poor (Hosea 12:7). Blood was shed like water, until one stream met another (Hosea 4:2), and overspread the land with one defiling deluge. Adultery was consecrated as an act of religion (Hosea 4:14). Those who were first in rank were first in excess. People and king vied in debauchery (Hosea 7:5); and the sottish king joined and encouraged the free-thinkers and blasphemers of his court (Hosea 7:3). The idolatrous priests loved and shared in the sins of the people (Hosea 4:8, Hosea 4:9); nay, they seem to have set themselves to intercept those on either side of Jordan, who would go to worship at Jerusalem, laying wait to murder them (Hosea 5:1; Hosea 6:9). Corruption had spread through the whole land, even the places once sacred through God's revelations or other mercies to their fore-fathers—Bethel, Gilgal, Gilead, Mizpah, Shechem—were especial scenes of corruption or of sin (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:1; Hosea 6:8, Hosea 6:9, etc.). Every holy memory was effaced by present corruption. Could things be worse? There was one aggravation more. Remonstrance was useless (Hosea 4:4); the knowledge of God was willfully rejected (Hosea 4:6); the people hated rebuke (Amos 5:10); the more they were called, the more they refused (Hosea 11:2, Hosea 11:7); they forbade their prophets to prophesy (Amos 2:12); and their false prophets hated God greatly (Hosea 9:7, Hosea 9:9). All attempts to heal all this disease only showed its incurableness".
II. EXAMPLE OF TYRE. The prosperity of Tyre in the seventh and eighth centuries before our era was extraordinary. She was mistress of her sister cities, Sidon and Gebal and Arvad; she ruled over a hundred colonies; on her island-rock she was safe from Assyria; the trade of the world was in her hands. "Situate at the entry of the sea, a merchant of the people for many isles" (Ezekiel 27:3); full of worldly wisdom, the wisdom that gets increase of riches (Ezekiel 28:3-5); rich beyond all conception in precious metals, and in gems (Ezekiel 28:13), and in spices, and in broidered work (Ezekiel 27:9.Ezekiel 27:2, Ezekiel 27:24), and in ivory and ebony (Ezekiel 27:15), and in all manner of merchandise; approved, respected, called "the renowned city, strong in the sea" (Ezekiel 26:17);—she had reached the acme of her glory, of her wealth, of her greatness. But with what results to her moral tone and temper? Her heart was "lifted up" (Ezekiel 28:5); her pride became excessive; she said in her heart, "I am of perfect beauty" (Ezekiel 27:8)—"I am a god; I sit in the seat of God" (Ezekiel 28:2). "Iniquity" of every kind was found in her (Ezekiel 28:15)—envp (Ezekiel 26:2), and "violence" (verse 16), and corrupt wisdom (verse 17), and profanation of sanctuaries (verse 18), and even dishonesty in her traffic (verse 18). And with iniquity, as usual, came ruin. Because of her pride, and her envy, and her violence, and her other iniquities, God brought a fire into her midst, which devoured her and reduced her to ashes (Ezekiel 26:18). The Babylonians were made God's instrument to chastise her, and carry off her wealth, and break down her walls, and destroy her pleasant houses, and slay her people with the sword (Ezekiel 26:11, Ezekiel 26:12), and make her a byword among the nations (Ezekiel 27:32)—a desolation, a hissing, and a terror (verse 36).
III. EXAMPLE OF ROME. The ruin of Rome was undoubtedly wrought by that long career of unexampled military success, which began with the closing years of the Second Punic War, and continued till she was the world's mistress. The wealth of Carthage, Macedonia, and Asia flowing into her coffers, destroyed the antique simplicity and severity of manners, stimulated ambition, provoked inordinate desire, and led to those terrific civil wars, in which the blood of the noblest and the bravest was shed like water, and "Rome fell ruined by her own strength" (Horace). It was not the influx of the barbarians that destroyed Rome; she fell from internal decay. The decline of Roman civilization dates from before the fall of the republic. It was then that population began to diminish, and the pure Roman blood to be mingled with the refuse of every nation. Slaves, freedmen, clients, glided into the tribes and gentes, and were followed by absolute foreigners, Greeks and Egyptians and Syrians, effete races in a state both of physical and moral degradation. "The Orontes flowed into the Tiber." The very names of those in the highest position became grotesque and strange, such as Cicero and Cato would have pronounced manifestly barbarous. A decay of moral principles followed this admixture. Slavery prevailed, and slavery in ancient as in modern times was "a hotbed of vice and selfish indulgence, enervating the spirit and vital forces of mankind, discouraging legitimate marriage, and enticing to promiscuous and barren concubinage. The fruit of such hateful unions, if fruit there were, engaged little regard from their selfish fathers, and both law and usage continued to sanction the exposure of infants, from which the female sex undoubtedly suffered most. The losses of Italy from this horrid practice were probably the greatest; but the provinces also lost proportionally; the imitation of Roman habits was rife on the remotest frontiers; the conquests of the empire were consolidated by the attractions of Roman indulgence and sensuality; slavery threw discredit on all manual labor, and engendered a false sentiment of honor, which constrained the poorer classes of freemen to dependence and celibacy; vice and idleness went hand-in-hand, and combined to stunt the moral and physical growth of the Roman citizen, leaving his weak and morbid frame exposed in an unequal contest to the fatal influences of his climate". It was a race which had thus lost its stamina, and become effete and worn out, that succumbed to barbarian inroads which, a few centuries earlier, it would have repulsed without any difficulty.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 15:1-7
Prosperity and its dangers.
The contrast between the opening and the close of Uzziah's reign—here so sharply set before us—has few parallels in history. There is, indeed, no lack of monarchs who have risen to proud positions of authority and power, and then suddenly have fallen ignominiously from their pinnacle of pride. Memory at once recalls such names as Nebuchadnezzar, one day surveying with pride great Babylon that he had made, and the next dwelling among the beasts of the field, his body wet with the dew of heaven; or Napoleon, one day with all Europe at his feet, and but a few days after, like a caged lion, a baffled, helpless prisoner on the lonely island of St. Helena. But Uzziah's early career was different from that of most monarchs who have fallen. To all appearance he promised well. He did right in the sight of the Lord. He did indeed continue that dangerous compromise of which Amaziah, his father, had been guilty, of permitting the high places to remain. But still he worshipped the true God. He sought God's help and guidance. He honored God's prophet. Moreover, he used his power well, not as a tyrant, but for the good of his people and for the prosperity and strengthening of the nation. And God prospered him in his efforts, as he will prosper all those who seek his help and blessing (2 Chronicles 26:5-15). But in an evil hour Uzziah (he is also called Azariah in this chapter) forgot that, though he was a king, he owed allegiance to a greater King. His prosperity turned his head. He forgot how much he owed to God. There was an old command of God, given after the rebellion of Korah and his sons, that none but the sons of Aaron—the priestly family—were to offer incense before the Lord. The obvious lesson was that special fitness, special holiness, was required of those who would stand as representatives of the people before God. But Uzziah disregards both the letter and the spirit of the command. He—poor weak mortal!—dares to defy the living God, and enters into the sanctuary to burn incense. It is another case of compromise and its consequences. He had been so accustomed to the violation of God's command in the matter of the high places, that now he thinks very little of this flagrant act of high-handed defiance. The priests remonstrated, but in vain. The proud king seizes the censer, and thrusts the priests aside with gestures of impatience and anger. But stay! What means that growing whiteness in his forehead? Ah! the symptoms are too well known. The hand of God is upon him. He is a leper. The censer falls from his hand. He can resist no longer. The priests thrust him forth from the holy place, and beyond the very precincts of the temple. Henceforth he is a king and yet an outcast, separated and secluded from the haunts and enjoyments of men (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
I. PROSPERITY AND ITS UPWARD PATH. For a long time the career of Uzziah was an upward path. His motto would seem to have been, as the motto of every young person, of every one of us, ought to be, "Excelsior!" There were three elements in his progress, three sources of his prosperity, three steps in his upward path. Along these three steps every one of us may fairly and with advantage follow Uzziah.
1. First of all, there was the fear of God. As a young man, unquestionably he had the fear of God before his eyes. We read of him in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord." This implies that he honored God's worship. He honored God's house. He honored God's Word, and sought guidance from the Divine Law. And what was the consequence? Just what the consequence of a God-fearing life will always be. "As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper." It is so still. God keeps his word. He has never yet broken that promise, "Them that honor me I will honor." This was the starting-point in Uzziah's prosperity, and, so long as he prospered, the secret of it was that he sought the Lord. Godliness is the best foundation of all true and lasting prosperity. Men like the late Samuel Morley, or the late Sir William McArthur, were not less successful because they were God-fearing men, and their business did not suffer because of the large amount of time and attention and money they devoted to religious work. To seek God's guidance in everything, God's blessing on every undertaking and every event of life—that is the secret of true prosperity and success.
2. The second step in Uzziah's prosperity was a good man's influence. We read in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God." While the Word of God and our own conscience are to be our chief guides, there are many details and plans of daily life in which we shall be greatly the better for the experience and advice of others. To what kind of men do you go for your advice or guidance? Go by all means to those who have best experience of the business or subject in question. But if you are to choose between the advice of a practical Christian man and that of a practical worldly man, surely for a Christian the Christian man's advice will carry most weight. Some one has well said, "You can never rise above the level of your companionship." Cultivate the society, seek the advice, look for the sympathy, of good men and good women.
3. The third step in Uzziah's prosperity was his diligence in business. Uzziah was no idler. He realized the responsibility of life. He realized the responsibilities of his high position. So we find him improving the defenses of Jerusalem and building towers; improving also the condition of the country and digging wells, so useful to the traveler and the husbandman in the East; and, as it was a time of warfare, providing suitable equipments for his soldiers, and encouraging new inventions of military engines and weapons. No success is won without hard work. Whatsoever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with our might. By these three methods, then, Uzziah attained to great prosperity. "He was marvelously helped, till he was strong," are the words of the writer in 2 Chronicles. His name and fame became well known. If you want to attain to prosperity and success in your business—and it is a desirable thing to see wealth, honorably earned and wisely spent, in the hands of Christian men—then, with the strong arm of a vigorous resolution, cut these three steps in your upward path, and plant your feet firmly in them—the fear of God, the influence of good men, and diligence in business. This is prosperity and its upward path. But we have reached the summit of Uzziah's career. Hitherto all has been progress upward. Hitherto all has been bright as the path of the just. But the scene changes. The shadows gather. The footsteps that pointed upwards now are turned downwards. We must look now at the other side of the picture, at—
II. PROSPERITY AND ITS DOWNWARD PATH. We may gain prosperity by rightful means, but sometimes the difficulty is to keep our prosperity and our religion at the same time. Riches bring with them their own temptations and dangers. We see in Uzziah's case the way to prosperity, which we should follow; we also see the dangers of prosperity, which we should avoid.
1. Prosperity leads to pride. We read of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles: "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction." He became filled up with ideas of his own importance, and, instead of giving God the glory, reflected with complacency on all the great deeds that he had done, and all the benefits he had conferred upon the nation. When he was younger, and in the beginning of his career, he was humbler. He was very glad then to seek God's guidance, to have the help and influence of Zechariah. But now he has got beyond all that. His whole character is completely changed.
"For lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face;
But, when he once have gained the topmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend."
Pride of riches, pride of rank, how vain, how foolish they are! Riches may bring with them bodily comforts and enjoyments. But if health goes or troubles come, what comfort can they bring us? Can they give us any satisfaction or peace of mind? Can they banish care or sickness? Can they arrest the skinny hand of Death? Yet this is a common danger to those who are prosperous in worldly things—to be puffed up with this empty and unreasonable pride. How much we all need, in any time of prosperity, to pray for humility! If our business prospers, let us ask God to keep us humble. If our Church prospers, let our sincere utterance ever be "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name be all the praise."
2. Prosperity leads to presumption. It is a step further than pride. Uzziah's pride was bad enough, but when it led him to trample on the Law of God and to violate the sacredness of God's holy place, his presumption was a bad example to others. Yet how many there are whose prosperity or whose wealth leads them to violate the laws of God! They think anything becomes them. They have become inflated with success, and the Law of God is a very small matter indeed in their eyes. Look at Claverhouse, inflated with his triumphs over the Scottish Covenanters, as with his dragoons he surrounded the cottage of John Brown of Priesthill. Touched by the prayers of John Brown, and the sight of his wife and helpless children gathered round him, the dragoons, with moistened eyes, refused to do their deadly work. Snatching a pistol from his belt, Claverhouse himself shot the good man through the head. Turning to the wife whom he had widowed, he said, "What do you think of your husband now?" "I always thought much of him, sir," replied the brave woman; "but never so much as I do this day. But how are you to answer for this morning's work? To men," he replied, "I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take him in my own hands." Four years afterwards, in the Pass of Killiecrankie, Claverhouse died by an unknown hand. How many think as Claverhouse did! Because they have rank, or wealth, or power, there- fore they imagine they can trample on God's laws, or trample on morality. Napoleon the Great thought that when he divorced his innocent and faithful wife; and be afterwards testified that that false and guilty step was the beginning of his downfall and disgrace. Because, by their wealth or their position, men think they can defy public opinion, therefore they imagine they can also disregard the commands of God. But it is a great mistake. No prosperity, no riches, no position in life, can ever lift us above the Law of God.
"In the corrupted currents of this world,
Offences gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above.
There is no shuffling; there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compelled,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence."
Ah! yes; that is the one message for rich and poor alike. "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Such, then, are the dangers which prosperity brings with it. There is a strong temptation to presumption and to pride. If we have much prosperity, then we need to be much in prayer. If riches increase, the responsibility to use them well increases also. If we look at worldly prosperity in relation to eternity, on the one hand it will seem very poor and insignificant. What are all the riches of this world compared with the "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away"? What are all the honors and privileges that worldly rank and prosperity bring with them, compared to the privilege of being one of God's children? What is all the society of earth in comparison with the fellowship of Jesus? If you are making worldly prosperity the be-all and end-all of your existence, sacrificing for it, as many do, health and conscience and your spiritual life, pause and think! Is it worth it? Put the two worlds in the balance. To an unsaved soul, with a dark and hopeless eternity, earthly prosperity is only a mockery. But, on the other hand, worldly prosperity, won by Christian efforts, guided by a Christian heart, and used by a Christian hand, what a blessing it may become! Let Jesus be in your heart first. Let him abide there—his love your motive power, his Word your guide—and then there will be no danger in prosperity.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 15:1-38
Some lessons from the history of kings.
"In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam," etc. The mighty Governor of the universe is represented as saying to the Jewish nation, "I gave thee a king in mine anger" (Hosea 13:2). And truly, with a certain number of exceptions here and there through the ages, kings have proved malific scourges of the race. In this chapter there are mentioned no less than seven of those men who are called kings, but who, instead of having one grain of moral royalty in their souls, were contemptible serfs to the last degree, slaves to their passions of sensuality and greed. How many conventional kings in all ages are moral paupers and vassals of Satan! Glance for a moment at each of the kings before us. Here is Azariah, elsewhere called Uzziah, who was the son and successor of Amaziah. Here is Zachariah, the son and successor of Jeroboam II. King of Israel, who reigned only six months, and then fell by the hand of Shallum. Here is Shallum, the fifteenth King of Israel, and the murderer of Zachariah, and who in his turn was murdered. Here is Menahem, the son of Gadi, who, having slain Shallum, reigned in his stead ten years—a reign characterized by ruthless cruelty and tyrannic oppression. Here is Pekahiah, the son and successor of Menahem, who reigned two years over Israel, and then was assassinated by Pekah. Here is Pekah, who was a general of the Israelitish army, and assassinated King Pekahiah in his palace, and usurped the government, reigning, according to the existing text, twenty years. Here is Jotham, the son and successor of Uzziah, the eleventh King of Judah, who reigned for sixteen years. He, perhaps, was the least wicked of all these princes. The whole chapter reminds us of several things worth note.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF RETRIBUTION IN THIS LIFE. Here we discover retribution in the leprosy of Azariah, and in the fate of the other kings. Of Azariah it is said, "The Lord smote the king, so that be was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house" Of all physical afflictions, perhaps that of leprosy is the most painful and revolting. It eats out the life of a man and dooms him to solitude. Disease strikes princes as well as paupers. Then see how the other wicked doers fared. The murderer is murdered, the slayer is slain; Shallum strikes down Zachariah; Menahem strikes down Shallum; and Pul, the King of Assyria, strikes Menahem with a terrible blow of humiliation and oppression; Pekah smites Pekahiah, and reigns twenty years when he is himself struck down by the blow of an assassin. Truly, even in this life," with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again." Though retribution here may not be complete and adequate, still it is at work everywhere in human society: It comes as a pledge and a prophecy of that realm beyond the grave, where every man shall be dealt with according to his works.
II. THE MIGHTINESS OF RELIGIOUS ERROR. In this chapter there is the record of long periods and of great changes. Battles are fought, revolutions are effected, monarch succeeds monarch, and the years come and go; but one thing remains, that is, idolatry" The high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places" (verses 4 and 34). Among the many evil tendencies of man there is none so mighty and influential as the pseudo-religious. Two facts will account for this.
1. The strength of the religious element in man. Burke and others of the wisest of the race have designated man as a religious animal. Religion with man is not a faculty, but the substratum in which all the faculties inhere; it is the core and the root of his nature. Hence, wherever man is found, if he has no home, he has a shrine; if he has no friend, he has a god.
2. The might of selfishness in man. What man needs most presents the greatest motives to human avarice and ambition. Hence the creation of bodies of priests to bolster up false religions, and derive position and wealth from them. Corruptio optimi pessima. It is most sad when men seek to" make a gain of godliness."
III. THE CRAVEN-HEARTEDNESS OF ENSLAVED PEOPLES. Had the peoples of Judah and Israel been really men worthy of their humanity, would they have tolerated for a day such monsters as we have in this chapter? The existence of tyrants is the fault of the people.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 15:1-7
Another king beginning well, ending ill.
It is remarkable that three kings of Judah in succession exhibited this characteristic. They begin well, serve God for a time and prosper, yet stumble and fail at last. We have seen the fates of Joash and Amaziah; and Azariah furnishes a third example.
I. AZARIAH'S REIGN.
1. His righteous rule. Azariah began to reign when only sixteen years of age; he reigned long—fifty-two years, and during the greater part of his reign he signalized himself as a king that did right. Save that the high places were unremoved, the praise given to him is unqualified. He was an able, energetic ruler, much more so than either his father or grandfather. The virtue of his reign is traced in Chronicles to the influence of a good man, Zechariah, "who had understanding in the visions of God" (2 Chronicles 26:5)—another example of the power for good exercised by prophets in the political history of Judah (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:2, 2 Chronicles 24:17; 2 Chronicles 25:7).
2. His prosperity. On this the Book of Chronicles dilates. So long as Azariah (or Uzziah) sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. Everything he touched went well with him. It was long since Judah had so enlightened, so enterprising, and so able a king. He subjugated the Philistines, the Arabians of Gur-baal, and the Ammonites; he greatly strengthened the defenses of Jerusalem; he developed the resources of the country, and fostered agriculture; he brought the organization and equipment of the army to a high pitch of perfection. As it is stated, "His name spread far abroad; for he was marvelously helped, tin he was strong" (2 Chronicles 26:15). It was as if God wished, by the abundance of his blessings, to teach Azariah and his people that assuredly their true advantage lay in his service. The previous reigns had given examples of this; but here was a new proof, still more undeniable than the preceding. Yet it was ineffectual to restrain from sin.
II. AZARIAH'S LEPROSY.
1. The worm at the root. Azariah had scarcely reached the acme of his power, when, as in the case of his predecessors, declension began. Unwarned by the past, he allowed his heart to grow proud and haughty. He was head of the state; why should he not also be bead of the Church? His prophetic adviser was by this time removed, and he was left to the bent of his own will. In his arrogance, he insisted on going into the holy place of the temple to burn incense to the Lord. It was there his doom fell upon him. We are again reminded of the subtle temptations that lie in prosperity. When men wax fat, they kick; and their hearts are apt to be lifted up to their destruction (Deuteronomy 8:11-14; Deuteronomy 32:15). Once let pride enter the heart, and deterioration is rapid. Its beginnings may be unseen, but it by-and-by reveals itself in. overt acts.
2. The stroke from heaven. It was Heaven's laws that Azariah was defying, and it was from heaven the blow came which struck his pride low. While yet he stood at God's altar, offering unhallowed incense, the leprous spot began to burn in his forehead, and in presence of the priests, whose protestations he despised, he felt himself a leper. The priests, in horror, thrust him out from the holy place. But it needed not their violence: "Yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him" (2 Chronicles 26:20). How quickly God can bring the haughtiness of men low! He is a jealous God, and what touches the honor of his sanctuary and worship is of special concern to him. We are warned against will-worship in God's service (Colossians 2:23; cf. Numbers 10:1, Numbers 10:2). The leprosy was but the outward token of the invisible sin of pride; yet how little shame the reality of sin occasions, as compared with that caused by an outward symbol of it like this! We may believe that in the end inward character will somehow stamp itself upon the outward appearance, and then men will see sin in its real loathsomeness.
3. Jotham as vicegerent. We are told that from this time Azariah took no more part in public business. He dwelt apart "in a several house—a living evidence of the weakness of man in contending with God, of the dishonor which is the Nemesis of presumptuous sin, of the isolation-which they bring upon themselves who refuse the bounds which God's Law prescribes. During this period, Jotham, the king's son, acted as his deputy. It would appear, from comparison with the Israelitish reigns, and with Assyrian chronology, that Jotham's sixteen regal years include this period when "he was over the house, judging the people of the land." Sin is a living death. Azariah was king in name, but morally, physically, legally, he was dead; for leprosy in the body is simply a process of decay and death. When, in fact, he did die, he was buried in Jerusalem, but in a "several" tomb, as during life he had dwelt in a "several" house (2 Chronicles 26:23).—J.O.
2 Kings 15:8-22
Anarchy in Israel.
With rapid descent the kingdom of Israel, which had risen to great external prosperity under Jeroboam II; hastened to its fall. The prophets give us vivid pictures of the corruption of the times. The bonds of social life were loosened, oppression was rampant, the fear of God seemed to have died out of the land; there was no confidence, peace, or good will among any classes, in the nation. As a consequence, the throne was a prey to any adventurer who had power to seize it.
I. THE FALL OF JEHU'S HOUSE.
1. The shadow of doom. With the accession of Zachariah, Jeroboam's son, the fourth generation of John's dynasty ascended the throne The shadow of doom may thus be said to have rested On this ill-fated king. A prophet had Spoken it to the founder of the house, "Thy sons shall sit on the throne of Israel unto the fourth generation." That word had its bright side of reward, but it had also its dark side of penalty, and it is this, which becomes prominent as the predicted term nears its close. Yet, as we can now also see, there is no fate in the matter. The reason why John's sons were only to sit on the throne till the fourth generation lay in their own character and actions. God's decrees do not work against, but in harmony with, the existing nature of things, and the established connection of causes and effects. John's house was about to fall
(1) because John's sons had been ungodly. None of them had sought God's glory or taken any pains to promote godliness in the nation. On the contrary, they had continued sowing the wind of disobedience to God's will, and the nation was now to reap the whirlwind.
(2) Under the rule of these kings, irreligion and immorality had spread fast, and struck their roots deep and wide in the kingdom. This will undermine any dynasty, will overthrow any empire. Rulers make a great mistake when they fix attention solely on external prosperity. If the foundations are rotten, the structure will sooner or later inevitably come down.
(3) Zachariah himself was a feeble king. This is implied even in the brief notice we have of him. It may be he who is referred to by Hosea, "In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine," etc. (Hosea 7:5). In any case, we know that he was not only weak, but wicked—"He did evil in the sight of the Lord."
2. The prophetic word fulfilled. A brief six months of the throne was all that was allowed to Zachariah. He seems to have been held in contempt by the people. His feeble character would appear the more feeble in contrast with that of his energetic and victorious father. We have a similar contrast in English history between Richard Cromwell and his father, Oliver. But Zachariah was more than feeble, he was worthless. Therefore, when the conspirator Shallum smote the king in the light of public day, "before the people," no hand seems to have been raised in his defense. He perished, and the house of Jehu was extinguished with him. Sinners do not live out half their days (Psalms 55:23). In due time the words of God are all fulfilled.
II. THE REIGN OF MENAHEM. We may pass by the brief reign of Shallum, which lasted only a month, and of which no events are recorded. He was slain by Menahem, the son of Gadi, illustrating the truth of which this chapter affords other exemplifications, that they who take the sword shall perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52). In respect of Menahem, we notice:
1. His violent usurpation. He too possessed himself of the throne by violent means. He smote Shallum in Samaria, as Shallum had, a few weeks before, smitten Zachariah. The effect of these revolutions on the morals of the people and the administration of law may be imagined. What respect could be felt for royalty established by such methods? Shallum, indeed, was a murderer, but Menahem was no better. Neither by sanction of God nor by election of the people, but solely by brute force, did he set himself upon the throne. His rule was thus, in its inception and essence, a tyranny. To this had Israel come by rejecting their true Ruler—God. "They have set up kings," said God, "but not by me" (Hosea 8:4). He who rejects God as his Sovereign must bear a heavier yoke.
2. His sickening cruelties. The fact that Menahem kept the throne for ten years shows him to have been a man of no small natural ability. But his disposition was savagely cruel. Not only did ha smite Shallum—a deed which might be pardoned—but in his war with Tiphsah he was guilty of brutal atrocities on those who refused to submit to him (cf. verse 16). In this he showed himself a man of a fierce and unscrupulous character. The people had become fierce, godless, and violent; and God gave them a king after their own image.
3. His league with Assyria. This is not the first contact of Israel with Assyria, but it is the first mention of that contact in the sacred history, The King of Assyria, here named Pul, came against the land, evidently with hostile intent; but Menahem, by the payment of a huge tribute, bought him off, and secured his sanction to his occupancy of the throne. (On the identification of Pul, see the Exposition.) Israel now came under a foreign yoke, and "sorrowed," as Hosea says, "for the burden of the King of princes" (Hosea 8:10). Sin, which is an effort after emancipation from the Law and authority of God, ends in the sinner being reduced to miserable bondage (Luke 15:15, Luke 15:16; John 8:34).
4. His oppression of the people. To raise the money for Pul, Menahem was under the necessity of exacting large sums from the men of wealth in the land. From each, we are told, he took fifty shekels of silver. Much of this money had been wrung from the poor, and now it was taken from the rich. In the end, it was probably upon the poor that the burden would come back. Thus the land groaned under tyranny, foreign oppression, robbery, and grinding of class by class. The end was not quite yet, but it was fast approaching. We need not doubt that Menahem's oppressive reign was hateful to the people. He escaped, however, the penalty of his misdeeds in his own person, and "slept with his fathers." It was his son Pekahiah who reaped the harvest he had sown.
III. THE REIGN OF PEKAH. Pekahiah's reign of two years, like that of Shallum, may be passed over. A stronger hand was needed to hold together the warring elements in this distracted kingdom, and such a hand was that of Pekah, the son of Remaliah.
1. Overthrow of the house of Menahem. Menahem had succeeded in handing down the throne to his son, but the latter could not keep it. The bold and ambitious Pekah, one of Pekahiah's captains, having secured the co-operation of fifty Gileadites, smote the king in his palace, and his attendants with him. Thus another violent revolution took place in Israel. It is stated that Pekah kept the throne for twenty years, but there is great difficulty at this point in adjusting the chronology. It seems impossible, on the side of Judah, to shorten the reign of Ahaz, having regard to his own age, and that of his son Hezekiah, at their respective accessions. To bring the Jewish and Assyrian chronologies into accord, we must apparently either
(1) shorten the reign of Pekah by about ten years, and bring down the reign of Ahaz to a date considerably below that usually given, which involves also the abandonment of the biblical date for the commencement of the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1), and of the synchronisms of this period generally; or
(2) suppose some break or hiatus of twenty years or so in the Assyrian lists at the epoch of the accession of Tiglath-pileser, i.e. the commencement of the new Assyrian empire. This view has its difficulties, but is not impossible. Pekah's reign was as evil as that of his predecessors.
2. Invasions of Tiglath-pileser. During this reign began those invasions of the Assyrians, and deportations of the population, which culminated in the fall of Samaria and carrying captive of the whole people, some years later. This expedition, of which mention is made in the Assyrian inscriptions, took place towards the end of Pekah's period of rule, and was a sequel to the events related in 2 Kings 16:5-9. Pekah, in alliance with Rezia of Damascus, had made a plot to depose Ahaz of Judah, and to set a creature of his own upon the throne (Isaiah 7:1-6). To this proposed attack we owe Isaiah's magnificent prophecy of the Child Immanuel.
3. Pekah's death. This intriguing monarch also, as he had climbed to the throne by assassination, fell a victim to assassination. He was slain by Hoshea, the son of Elah, who succeeded him as the last King of Israel.—J.O.
2 Kings 15:32-38
A good reign.
In welcome contrast with the character of the reigns we have been considering, stands this of Jotham, who walked in the footsteps of his father in all that was right.
I. JUDAH WELL GOVERNED.
1. Rule in the fear of God. Jotham proved an excellent ruler. He took warning from his father's example, and "prepared his ways before the Lord his God" (2 Chronicles 27:6). His reign, indeed, was a brief one compared with his father's, and, had time been given, he might have backslidden as had his predecessors. But, so far as it went, his conduct was blameless, except that the high places were still unremoved. If we assume that Jotham's years of rule are reckoned from the time when he took his father's place in the public administration, he cannot have reigned alone for more than five or six years.
2. Religion honored. It is told of him, negatively, that he did not, like his father, enter into the temple of the Lord (2 Chronicles 27:2), and positively, that "he built the higher gate of the house of the Lord." Whereas a wicked ruler like Athaliah broke down the temple, this good king set himself to adorn and strengthen it. In this he showed a laudable zeal for God's honor.
3. The kingdom strengthened. Jotham strengthened the kingdom of Judah in many other ways—by just administration, by extensive works of building, by subjugation of enemies, etc. (2 Chronicles 27:3-6). If the annals of this reign, "written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah," could be recovered, they would show Jotham to be one of the best kings Judah ever had—a worthy son of a very able father. Such rulers are a blessing to a country. Their loss is to be deplored, for there is no guarantee that their successors will be like them. From Jotham to Ahaz the descent is great.
II. JUDAH THREATENED.
1. A discordant note. It is said in Chronicles that, notwithstanding Jotham's enlightened and righteous government, "the people did yet corruptly" (2 Chronicles 27:2). It is not easy to purge out evil leaven when once it has got into a community; and the worship of the high places gave opportunity for evil practices to develop themselves away from the center, which was more under the king's eye. The pictures Isaiah now begins to draw for us show that the corruption was not slight.
2. Threatened invasion. To this inward corruption of the people may be attributed the chastisements which God now saw fit to send on Judah. In Jotham's reign they but begin, but in the reign of Ahaz they develop to considerable proportions. In the text we are simply told, "In those days the Lord began to send against Judah Rezin the King of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah." These two kings, as we shall subsequently see, had designs upon the throne of Judah. Chastisement is the more deserved when great privileges are given and fail to be improved.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany