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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Chronicles 27

 

 

Verses 1-9

3

UZZIAH, JOTHAM, AND AHAZ

2 Chronicles 26:1-23; 2 Chronicles 27:1-9; 2 Chronicles 28:1-27

AFTER the assassination of Amaziah, all the people of Judah took his son Uzziah, a lad of sixteen, called in the book of Kings Azariah, and made him king. The chronicler borrows from the older narrative the statement that "Uzziah did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah, according to all that his father Amaziah had done." In the light of the sins attributed both to Amaziah and Uzziah in Chronicles, this is a somewhat doubtful compliment. Sarcasm, however, is not one of the chronicler’s failings; he simply allows the older history to speak for itself, and leaves the reader to combine its judgment with the statement of later tradition as best he can. But yet we might modify this verse, and read that Uzziah did good and evil, prospered and fell into misfortune, according to all that his father Amaziah had done, or an even closer parallel might be drawn between what Uzziah did and suffered and the chequered character and fortunes of Joash.

Though much older than the latter, at his accession Uzziah was young enough to be very much under the control of ministers and advisers; and as Joash was trained in loyalty to Jehovah by the high-priest Jehoiada, so Uzziah "set himself to seek God during the life-time" of a certain prophet, who, like the son of Jehoiada, was named Zechariah, "who had understanding or gave instruction in the fear of Jehovah," i.e., a man versed in sacred learning, rich in spiritual experience, and able to communicate his knowledge, such a one as Ezra the scribe in later days.

Under the guidance of this otherwise unknown prophet, the young king was led to conform his private life and public administration to the will of God. In "seeking God," Uzziah would be careful to maintain and attend the Temple services, to honor the priests of Jehovah and make due provision for their wants; and "as long as he sought Jehovah God gave him prosperity."

Uzziah received all the rewards usually bestowed, upon pious kings: he was victorious in war and exacted tribute from neighboring states; he built fortresses, and had abundance of cattle and slaves, a large and well-equipped army, and well-supplied arsenals. Like other powerful kings of Judah, he asserted his supremacy over the tribes along the southern frontier of his kingdom. God helped him against the Philistines, the Arabians of Gur-baal, and the Meunim. He destroyed the fortifications of Gath, Jabne, and Ashdod, and built forts of his own in the country of the Philistines. Nothing is known about Gur-baal; but the Arabian allies of the Philistines would be, like Jehoram’s enemies "the Arabians who dwelt near the Ethiopians," nomads of the deserts south of Judah. These Philistines and Arabians had brought tribute to Jehoshaphat without waiting to be subdued by his armies; so now the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah, and his name spread abroad "even to the entering in of Egypt," possibly a hundred or even a hundred and fifty miles from Jerusalem. It is evident that the chronicler’s ideas of international politics were of very modest dimensions.

Moreover, Uzziah added to the fortifications of Jerusalem; and because he loved husbandry and had cattle, and husbandmen, and vine-dressers in the open country and outlying districts of Judah, he built towers for their protection. His army was of about the same strength as that of Amaziah, three hundred thousand men, so that in this, as in his character and exploits, he did according to all that his father had done, except that he was content with his own Jewish warriors and did not waste his talents in purchasing worse than useless reinforcements from Israel. Uzziah’s army was well disciplined, carefully organized, and constantly employed; they were men of mighty power, and went out to war by bands, to collect the king’s tribute and enlarge his dominions and revenue by new conquests. The war material in his arsenals is described at greater length than that of any previous king: shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slings. The great advance of military science in Uzziah’s reign was marked by the invention of engines of war for the defense of Jerusalem; some, like the Roman catapulta, were for arrows, and others, like the ballista, to hurl huge stones. Though the Assyrian sculptures show us that battering-rams were freely employed by them against the walls of Jewish cities, {Cf. Ezekiel 26:9} and the ballista is said by Pliny to have been invented in Syria, no other Hebrew king is credited with the possession of this primitive artillery. The chronicler or his authority seems profoundly impressed by the great skill displayed in this invention; in describing it, he uses the root hashabh, to devise, three times in three consecutive words. The engines were "hishshe-bhonoth mahashebheth hoshebh"-"engines engineered by the ingenious." Jehovah not only provided Uzziah with ample military resources of every kind, but also blessed the means which He Himself had furnished; Uzziah "was marvelously helped, till he was strong, and his name spread far abroad." The neighboring states heard with admiration of his military resources.

The student of Chronicles will by this time be prepared for the invariable sequel to God-given prosperity. Like David, Rehoboam, Asa, and Amaziah, when Uzziah "was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction." The most powerful of the kings of Judah died a leper. An attack of leprosy admitted of only one explanation: it was a plague inflicted by Jehovah Himself as the punishment of sin; and so the book of Kings tells us that "Jehovah smote the king," but says nothing about the sin thus punished. The chronicler was able to supply the omission: Uzziah had dared to go into the Temple and with irregular zeal to burn incense on the altar of incense. In so doing, he was violating the Law, which made the priestly office and all priestly functions the exclusive prerogative of the house of Aaron and denounced the penalty of death against any one who usurped priestly functions. [Numbers 18:7;, Exodus 30:7] But Uzziah was not allowed to carry out his unholy design; the high-priest Azariah went in after him with eighty stalwart colleagues, rebuked his presumption, and bade him leave the sanctuary. Uzziah was no more tractable to the admonitions of the priest than Asa and Amaziah had been to those of the prophets. The kings of Judah were accustomed, even in Chronicles, to exercise an unchallenged control over the Temple and to regard the high-priests very much in the light of private chaplains. Uzziah was wroth: he was at the zenith of his power and glory; his heart was lifted up. Who were these priests, that they should stand between him and Jehovah and dare to publicly check and rebuke him in his own temple? Henry II’s feelings towards Becket must have been mild compared to those of Uzziah towards Azariah, who, if the king could have had his way, would doubtless have shared the fate of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada. But a direct intervention of Jehovah protected the priests, and preserved Uzziah from further sacrilege. While his features were convulsed with anger, leprosy brake forth in his forehead. The contest between king and priest was at once ended; the priests thrust him out, and he himself hasted to go, recognizing that Jehovah had smitten him. Henceforth he lived apart, cut off from fellowship alike with man and God, and his son Jotham governed in his stead. The book of Kings simply makes the general statement that Uzziah was buried with his fathers in the city of David; but the chronicler is anxious that his readers should not suppose that the tombs of the sacred house of David were polluted by the presence of a leprous corpse: the explains that the leper was buried, not in the royal sepulcher, but in the field attached to it.

The moral of this incident is obvious. In attempting to understand its significance, we need not trouble ourselves about the relative authority of kings and priests; the principle vindicated by the punishment of Uzziah was the simple duty of obedience to an express command of Jehovah. However trivial the burning of incense may be in itself, it formed part of an elaborate and complicated system of ritual. To interfere with the Divine ordinances in one detail would mar the significance and impressiveness of the whole Temple service. One arbitrary innovation would be a precedent for others, and would constitute a serious danger for a system whose value lay in continuous uniformity. Moreover, Uzziah was stubborn in disobedience. His attempt to burn incense might have been sufficiently punished by the public and humiliating reproof of the high-priest. His leprosy came upon him because, when thwarted in an unholy purpose, he gave way to ungoverned passion.

In its consequences we see a practical application of the lessons of the incident. How often is the sinner only provoked to greater wickedness by the obstacles which Divine grace opposes to his wrong-doing! How few men will tolerate the suggestion that their intentions are cruel, selfish, or dishonorable! Remonstrance is an insult, an offence against their personal dignity; they feel that their self-respect demands that they should persevere in their purpose, and that they should resent and punish any one who has tried to thwart them. Uzziah’s wrath was perfectly natural; few men have been so uniformly patient of reproof as not sometimes to have turned in anger upon those who warned them against sin. The most dramatic feature of this episode, the sudden frost of leprosy in the king’s forehead, is not without its spiritual antitype. Men’s anger at well-merited reproof has often blighted their lives once for all with ineradicable moral leprosy. In the madness of passion they have broken bonds which have hitherto restrained them and committed themselves beyond recall to evil pursuits and fatal friendships. Let us take the most lenient view of Uzziah’s conduct, and suppose that he believed himself entitled to offer incense; he could not doubt that the priests were equally confident that Jehovah had enjoined the duty on them, and them alone. Such a question was not to be decided by violence, in the heat of personal bitterness. Azariah himself had been unwisely zealous in bringing in his eighty priests; Jehovah showed him that they were quite unnecessary, because at the last Uzziah "himself hasted to go out." When personal passion and jealousy are eliminated from Christian polemics, the Church will be able to write the epitaph of the odium theologicum.

Uzziah was succeeded by Jotham, who had already governed for some time as regent. In recording the favorable judgment of the book of Kings, "He did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah, according to all that his father Uzziah had done," the chronicler is careful to add, "Howbeit he entered not into the temple of Jehovah"; the exclusive privilege of the house of Aaron had been established once for all. The story of Jotham’s reign comes like a quiet and pleasant oasis in the chronicler’s dreary narrative of wicked rulers, interspersed with pious kings whose piety failed them in their latter days. Jotham shares with Solomon the distinguished honor of being a king of whom no evil is recorded either in Kings or Chronicles, and who died in prosperity, at peace with Jehovah. At the same time it is probable that Jotham owes the blameless character he bears in Chronicles to the fact that the earlier narrative does not mention any misfortunes of his, especially any misfortune towards the close of his life. Otherwise the theological school from whom the chronicler derived, his later traditions would have been anxious to discover or deduce some sin to account for such misfortune. At the end of the short notice of his reign, between two parts of the usual closing formula, an editor of the book of Kings has inserted the statement that "in those days Jehovah began to send against Judah Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah." This verse the chronicler has omitted; neither the date nor the nature of this trouble was clear enough to cast any slur upon the character of Jotham.

Jotham, again, had the rewards of a pious king: he added a gate to the Temple, and strengthened the wall of Ophel, and built cities and castles in Judah; he made successful war upon Ammon, and received from them an immense tribute-a hundred talents of silver, ten thousand measures of wheat, and as much barley-for three successive years. What happened afterwards we are not told. It has been suggested that the amounts mentioned were paid in three yearly installments, or that the three years were at the end of the reign, and the tribute came to an end when Jotham died or when the troubles with Pekah and Rezin began.

We have had repeated occasion to notice that in his accounts of the good kings the chronicler almost always omits the qualifying clause to the effect that they did not take away the high places. He does so here but, contrary to his usual practice, he inserts a qualifying clause of his own: "The people did yet corruptly." He probably had in view the unmitigated wickedness of the following reign, and was glad to retain the evidence that Ahaz found encouragement and support in his idolatry; he is careful however, to state the fact so that no shadow of blame falls upon Jotham.

The life of Ahaz has been dealt with elsewhere. Here we need merely repeat that for the sixteen years of his reign Judah was to all appearance utterly given over to every form of idolatry, and was oppressed and brought low by Israel, Syria, and Assyria.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 27:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-chronicles-27.html.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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