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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Kings 15

 

 

Verses 1-7

AZARIAH-UZZIAH

B.C. 783 (?)- 737

JOTHAM

B.C. 737-735

2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Kings 15:32-38

"This is vanity, and it is a sore sickness."

- Ecclesiastes 6:2.

BEFORE we watch the last "glimmerings and decays" of the Northern Kingdom, we must once more revert to the fortunes of the House of David. Judah partook of the better fortunes of Israel. She, too, enjoyed the respite caused by the crippling of the power of Syria, and the cessation from aggression of the Assyrian kings, who, for a century, were either unambitious monarchs like Assurdan, or were engaged in fighting on their own northern and eastern frontiers. Judah, too, like Israel, was happy in the long and wise governance of a faithful king.

This king was Azariah ("My strength is Jehovah"), the son of Amaziah. He is called Uzziah by the Chronicles, and in some verses of the brief references to his long reign in the Book of Kings. It is not certain that he was the eldest son of Amaziah; but he was so distinctly the ablest, that, at the age of sixteen, he was chosen king by "all the people." His official title to the world must have been Azariah, for in that form his name occurs in the Assyrian records. Uzziah seems to have been the more familiar title which he bore among his people. There seems to be an allusion to both names-Jehovah-his-helper, and Jehovah-his-strength-in the Chronicles: "God helped him, and made him to prosper; and his name spread far abroad, and he was marvelously helped, till he was strong."

The Book of Kings only devotes a few verses to him; but from the Chronicler we learn much more about his prosperous activity. His first achievement was to recover and fortify the port of Elath, on the Red Sea, {2 Chronicles 26:2-15} and to reduce the Edomites to the position they had held in the earlier days of his father’s reign. This gave security to his commerce, and at once "his name spread far abroad, even to the entering in of Egypt."

He next subdued the Philistines; took Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod; dismantled their fortifications, filled them with Hebrew colonists, and "smote all Palestine with a rod."

He then chastised the roving Arabs of the Negeb or south country in Gur-Baal and Maon, and suppressed their plundering incursions.

His next achievement was to reduce the Ammonite Emirs to the position of tributaries, and to enforce from them rights of pasturage for the large flocks, not only in the low country (shephelah), but in the southern wilderness (midbar), and in the carmels or fertile grounds among the Trans-Jordanic hills.

Having thus subdued his enemies on all sides, he turned his attention to home affairs-built towers, strengthened the walls of Jerusalem at its most assailable points, provided catapults and other instruments of war, and rendered a permanent benefit to Jerusalem by irrigation and the storing of rain-water in tanks.

All these improvements so greatly increased his wealth and importance that he was able to renew David’s old force of heroes (Gibborim), and to increase their number from six hundred to two thousand six hundred, whom he carefully enrolled, equipped with armor, and trained in the use of engines of war. And he not only extended his boundaries southwards and eastwards, but appears to have been strong enough, after the death of Jeroboam II, to make an expedition northwards, and to have headed a Syrian coalition against Tiglath-Pileser III, in B.C. 738. He is mentioned in two notable fragments of the annals of the eighth year of this Assyrian king. He is there called Azrijahu, and both his forces and those of Hamath seem to have suffered a defeat.

It is distressing to find that a King so good and so great ended his days in overwhelming and irretrievable misfortune. The glorious reign had a ghastly conclusion. All that the historian tells us is that "the Lord smote the king, so that he was a leper, and dwelt in a several [i.e., a separate] house." The word rendered "a several house" may perhaps mean (as in the margin of the A.V) "a lazar house," like the Belt el Massakin or "house of the unfortunate," the hospital or abode of lepers, outside the walls of Jerusalem. The rendering is uncertain, but it is by no means impossible that the prevalence of the affliction had, even in those early days, created a retreat for those thus smitten, especially as they formed a numerous class. Obviously the king could no more fulfill his royal duties. A leper becomes a horrible object, and no one would have been more anxious than the unhappy Azariah himself to conceal his aspect from the eyes of his people. His son Jotham was set over the household; and though he is not called a regent or joint-king-for this institution does not seem to have existed among the ancient Hebrews-he acted as judge over the people of the land.

We are told that Isaiah wrote the annals of this king’s reign, but we do not know whether it was from Isaiah’s biography that the Chronicler took the story of the manner in which Uzziah was smitten with leprosy. The Chronicler says that his heart was puffed up with his successes and his prosperity, and that he was consequently led to thrust himself into the priest’s office by burning incense in the Temple. Solomon appears to have done the same without the least question of opposition; but now the times were changed, and Azariah, the high priest, and eighty of his colleagues went in a body to prevent Uzziah, to rebuke him, and to order him out of the Holy Place. The opposition kindled him into the fiercest anger, and at this moment of hot altercation the red spot of leprosy suddenly rose and burned upon his forehead. The priests looked with horror on the fatal sign; and the stricken king, himself horrified at this awful visitation of God, ceased to resist the priests, and rushed forth to relieve the Temple of his unclean presence, and to linger out the sad remnant of his days in the living death of that most dishonoring disease. Surely no man was ever smitten down from the summits of splendor to a lower abyss of unspeakable calamity! We can but trust that the misery only laid waste the few last years of his reign; for Jotham was twenty-five when he began to reign, and he must have been more than a mere boy when he was set to perform his father’s duties.

So the glory of Uzziah faded into dust and darkness. At the age of sixty-eight death came as the welcome release from his miseries, and "they buried him with his fathers in the City of David." The Levitically scrupulous Chronicler adds that he was not laid in the actual sepulcher of his fathers, but in a field of burial which belonged to them-"for they said, He is a leper." The general outline of his reign resembled that of his father’s. It began well; it fell by pride; it closed in misery.

The annals of his son Jotham were not eventful, and he died at the age of forty-one or earlier. He is said to have reigned sixteen years, but there are insuperable difficulties about the chronology of his reign, which can only be solved by hazardous conjectures. He was a good king, "howbeit the high places were not removed." The Chronicler speaks of him chiefly as a builder. He built or restored the northern gate of the Temple, and defended Judah with fortresses and towns. But the glory and strength of his father’s reign faded away under his rule. He did indeed suppress a revolt of the Ammonites, and exacted from them a heavy indemnity; but shortly afterwards the inaction of Assyria led to an alliance between Pekah, King of Israel, and Rezin, King of Damascus; and these kings harassed Jotham-perhaps because he refused to become a member of their coalition. The good king must also have been pained by the signs of moral degeneracy all around him in the customs of his own people. It was in the year that King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw his first vision, and he gives us a deplorable picture of contemporary laxity. Whatever the king may have been, the princes were no better than "rulers of Sodom," and the people were "people of Gomorrah." There was abundance of lip-worship, but little security; plentiful religionism, but no godliness. Superstition went hand in hand with formalism, and the scrupulosity of outward service was "made a substitute for righteousness and true holiness. This was the deadliest characteristic of this epoch, as we find it portrayed in the first chapter of Isaiah. The faithful city had become a harlot-but not in outward semblance. She "reflected heaven on her surface, and hid Gomorrah in her heart." Righteousness had dwelt in her-but now murderers; but the murderers wore phylacteries, and for a pretence made long prayers. It was this deep-seated hypocrisy, this pretence of religion without the reality, which called forth the loudest crashes of Isaiah’s thunder. There is more hope for a country avowedly guilty and irreligious than for one which makes its scrupulous ceremonialism a cloak of maliciousness. And thus there lay at the heart of Isaiah’s message that protest for bare morality, as constituting the end and the essence of religion, which we find in all the earliest and greatest prophets:-

"Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; Give ear unto the Law of our God, ye people Of Gomorrah! To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; And I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to see My face, who hath required this at your hands, to trample My courts? Bring no more vain oblations! Incense is an abomination unto Me: New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies-I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting Wash you! make you clean!" {Isaiah 1:10-17}

Of Jotham we hear nothing more. He died a natural death at an early age. If the years of his reign are counted from the time when his father’s affliction developed on him the responsibilities of office, it is probable that he did not long survive the illustrious leper, but was buried soon after him in the City of David his father.


Verses 8-12

9

AMOS, HOSEA, AND THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

2 Kings 14:23-29;, 2 Kings 15:8-12

"In them is plainest taught and easiest learnt

What makes a nation happy and keeps it so.

What ruins kingdoms and lays cities flat."

- MILTON, "Paradise Regained"

"We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,

Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of Fate:

But the soul is still oracular: amid the market’s din

List the ominous Stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,

‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.’"

- LOWELL

AMOS and Hosea are the two earliest prophets whose "burdens" have come down to us. From them we gain a near insight into the internal condition of Israel in this day of her prosperity.

We see, first, that the prosperity was not unbroken. Though peace reigned, the people were not left to lapse unwarned into sloth and godlessness. The land had suffered from the horrible scourge of locusts, until every carmel-every garden of God on hill and plain-withered before them. There had been widespread conflagrations; {Amos 7:4} there had been a visitation of pestilence; and, finally, there had been an earthquake so violent that it constituted an epoch from which dates were reckoned. There were also two eclipses of the sun, which darkened with fear the minds of the superstitious.

Nor was this the worst. Civilization and commerce had brought luxury in their train, and all the bonds of morality had been relaxed. The country began to be comparatively depleted, and the innocent regularity of agricultural pursuits palled upon the young, who were seduced by the glittering excitement of the growing towns. All zeal for religion was looked on as archaic, and the splendor of formal services was regarded as a sufficient recognition of such gods as there were. As a natural consequence, the nobles and the wealthy classes were more and more infected with a gross materialism, which displayed itself in ostentatious furniture, and sumptuous palaces of precious marbles inlaid with ivory. The desire for such vanities increased the thirst for gold, and avarice replenished its exhausted coffers by grinding the faces of the poor, by defrauding the hireling of his wages, by selling the righteous for silver, the needy for handfuls of barley, and the poor for a pair of shoes. The degrading vice of intoxication acquired fresh vogue, and the gorgeous gluttonies of the rich were further disgraced by the shameful spectacle of drunkards, who lolled for hours over the revelries which were inflamed by voluptuous music. Worst of all, the purity of family life was invaded and broken down. Throwing aside the old veiled seclusion of women in Oriental life, the ladies of Israel showed themselves in the streets in all "the bravery of their tinkling ornaments of gold," and sank into the adulterous courses stimulated by their pampered effrontery.

Such is the picture which we draw from the burning denunciations of the peasant-prophet of Tekoa. He was no prophet nor prophet’s son, but a humble gatherer of sycamore-fruit, a toil which only fell to the humblest of the people. Who is not afraid, he asks, when a lion roars? and how can a prophet be silent when the Lord God has spoken? Indignation had transformed and dilated him from a laborer into a seer, anti had summoned him from the pastoral shades of his native village-whether in Judah or in Israel is uncertain-to denounce the more flagrant iniquities of the Northern capital. First he proclaims the vengeance of Jehovah upon the transgressions of the Philistines, of Tyre, of Edom, of Ammon, of Moab, and even of Judah; and then he turns with a crash upon apostatizing Israel. {Amos 1:1 - Amos 2:5} He speaks with unsparing plainness of their pitiless greed, their shameless debauchery, their exacting usury, their attempts to pervert even the abstinent Nazarites into intemperance, and to silence the prophets by opposition and obloquy. Jehovah was crushed under their violence. {Amos 2:6-13} And did they think to go unscathed after such black ingratitude? Nay! their mightiest should flee away naked in the day of defeat. Robbery was in their houses of ivory, and the few of them who should escape the spoiler should only be as when a shepherd tears out of the mouth of a lion two legs and a piece of an ear. {Amos 3:9-15} As for Bethel, their shrine-which he calls Bethaven, "House of Vanity," not Bethel, "House of God"-the horns of its altars should be cut off. Should oppression and licentiousness flourish? Jehovah would take them with hooks, and their children with fishhooks, and their sacrifices at Bethel and Gilgal should be utterly unavailing. Drought, and blasting, and mildew, and wasting plague, and earth-convulsions like those which had swallowed Sodom and Gomorrah, from which they should only be plucked as a "firebrand out of the burning," should warn them that they must prepare to meet their God. {Amos 4:1-13} It was lamentable; but lamentation was vain, unless they would return to Jehovah, Lord of hosts, and abandon the false worship of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal, and listen to the voice of the righteous, whom they now abhorred for his rebukes. They talked hypocritically about "the day of the Lord," but to them it should be blackness. They relied on feast days, and services, and sacrifices; but since they would not give the sacrifice of judgment and righteousness, for which alone God cared, they should be carried into captivity beyond Damascus: yes! even to that terrible Assyria with whose king they now were on friendly terms. They lay at ease on their carved couches at their delicate feasts, draining the wine-bowls, and glistering with fragrant oils, heedless of the impending doom which would smite the great house with breaches and the little house with clefts, and which should bring upon them an avenger who should afflict them from their conquered Hamath southwards even to the wady of the wilderness. {Amos 6:1-14} The threatened judgments of locusts and fire had been mitigated at the prophet’s prayer, but nothing could avert the plumb-line of destruction which Jehovah held over them, and He would rise against the House of Jeroboam with His sword. {Amos 7:1-9} We infer from all that Amos and Hosea say that the calf-worship at Bethel (for Dan is not mentioned in this connection) had degenerated into an idolatry far more abject than it originally was. The familiarity of such multitudes of the people with Baal-worship and Asherah-worship had tended to obliterate the sense that the "calves" were cherubic emblems of Jehovah; and were it not for some confusions of this kind, it is inconceivable that Jehoram ben-Jehu should have restored the Asherah which his father had removed. Be that as it may, Bethel and Gilgal seem to have become centers of corruption. Dan is scarcely once alluded to as a scene of the calf-worship.

Others, then, might be deceived by the surface-glitter of extended empire in the days of Jeroboam II. Not so the true prophets. It has often happened - as to Persia, when, in B.C. 388, she dictated the Peace of Antalcidas, and to Papal Rome in the days of the Jubilee of 1300, and to Philip II of Spain in the year of the Armada, and to Louis XIV in 1667-that a nation has seemed to be at its zenith of pomp and power on the very eve of some tremendous catastrophe. Amos and Hosea saw that such a catastrophe was at hand for Israel, because they knew that Divine punishment inevitably dogs the heels of insolence and crime. The loftiness of Israel’s privilege involved the utterness of her ruin. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities." {Amos 3:2} Such prophecies, so eloquent, so uncompromising, so varied, and so constantly disseminated among the people, first by public harangues, then in writing, could no longer be neglected. Amos, with his natural culture, his rhythmic utterances, and his "inextinguishable fire, was far different from the wild fanatics, with their hairy garments, and sudden movements, and long locks, and cries, and self-inflicted wounds, with whom Israel had been familiar since the days of Elijah, whom they all imitated. So long as this inspired peasant confined himself to moral denunciations the aristocracy and priesthood of Samaria could afford comfortably to despise him. What were moral denunciations to them? What harm was there in ivory palaces and refined feasts? This man was a mere red socialist who tried to undermine the customs of society. The hold of the upper classes on the people, whom their exactions had burdened with hopeless debt, and whom they could with impunity crush into slavery, was too strong to be shaken by the "hysteric gush" of a philanthropic faddist and temperance fanatic like this. But when he had the enormous presumption to mention publicly the name of their victorious king, and to say that Jehovah would rise against him with the sword, it was time for the clergy to interfere, and to send the intruder back to his native obscurity.

So Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, invoked the king’s authority. "Amos," he said to the king, "hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel." The charge was grossly false, but it did well enough to serve the priest’s purpose. "The land is not able to bear all his words."

That was true; for when nations have chosen to abide by their own vicious courses, and refuse to listen to the voice of warning, they are impatient of rebuke. They refuse to hear when God calls to them.

"For when we in our viciousness grow hard,

Oh misery on it! the wise gods seal our eyes;

In our own filth drop our clear judgments; make us

Adore our errors; laugh at us while we strut

To our confusion."

The priest tried further to inflame the king’s anger by telling him two more of Amos’s supposed predictions. He had prophesied (which was a false inference) that Israel should be led away captive out of their own land, and had also prophesied (which was a perversion of the fact) "that Jeroboam should die by the sword."

At the first prophecy Jeroboam probably smiled. It might indeed come true in the long-run. If he was a man of prescience as well as of prowess, he probably foresaw that the elements of ruin lurked in his transient success, and that though, for the present, Assyria was occupied in other directions, it was unlikely that the weaker Israel would escape the fate of the far more powerful Syria. As for the personal prophecy, he was, strong, and was honored, and had his army and his guards. He would take his chance. Nor does it seem to have troubled any one that Amos looked for the ultimate union of Israel with Judah. Since the time of Joash the inheritance of David had been but as "a ruined booth"; {Amos 9:11} but Amos prophesied its restoration. This touch may have been added later, when he wrote and published his "burdens"; but he did not hesitate to speak as if the two kingdoms were really and properly one. {Amos 9:11-15 Comp. Hosea 3:5}

We are not told that Jeroboam II interfered with the prophet in any way. Had he done so, he would have been rebuked and denounced for it. He probably went no further than to allow the priest and the prophet to settle the matter between themselves. Perhaps he gave a contemptuous permission that, if Amaziah thought it worthwhile to send the prophet back into Judah, he might do so.

Armed with this nonchalant mandate, Amaziah, with more mildness and good-humor than might have been expected from one of his class, said to Amos, "O Seer, go home, and eat thy bread, and prophesy to thy heart’s content at home; but do not prophesy any more at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary and the king’s court." Amos obeyed perforce, but stopped to say that he had not prophesied out of his own mouth, but by Jehovah’s bidding. He then hurled at the priest a message of doom as frightful as that which Jeremiah pronounced upon Pashur, when that priest smote him on the face. His wife should be a harlot in the city; his sons and daughters should be slain; his inheritance should be divided; he should die in a polluted land; and Israel should go into captivity. And as for his mission, he justified it by the fact that he was not one of a hereditary or a professional community; he was no prophet or prophet’s son. Such men might-like Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, and his four hundred abettors-be led into mere function and professionalism, into manufactured enthusiasm and simulated inspiration. From such communities freshness, unconventionality, courage, were hardly to be expected. They would philippize at times; they would get to love their order and their privileges better than their message, and-themselves best of all. It is the tendency of organized bodies to be tempted into conventionality, and to sink into banded unions chiefly concerned in the protection of their own prestige. Not such was Amos. He was a peasant herdsman in whose heart had burned the inspiration of Jehovah and the wrath against moral misdoing till they had burst into flame. It was indignation against iniquity which had called Amos from the flocks and the sycamores to launch against an apostatizing people the menace of doom. In that grief and indignation he heard the voice and received the mandate of the Lord of hosts. He heads the long line of literary prophets whose priceless utterances are preserved in the Old Testament. The inestimable value of their teaching lies most of all in the fact that they were-like Moses-preachers of the moral law; and that, like the Book of the Covenant, which is the most ancient and the most valuable part of the Laws of the Pentateuch, they count external service as no better than the small dust of the balance in comparison with righteousness and true holiness.

The rest of the predictions of Amos were added at a later date. They dwelt on the certainty and the awful details of the coming over throw; the doom of the idolaters of Gilgal and Beersheba; the inevitable swiftness of the catastrophe in which Samaria should be sifted like corn in a sieve in spite of her incorrigible security. {Amos 8:1-14; Amos 9:1-9; Amos 9:10} Yet the ruin should not be absolute. "Thus saith Jehovah: As the shepherd teareth out of the mouth of the lion two legs and the piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be rescued, that sit in Samaria on the corner of a couch, and on the damask of a bed."

The Hebrew Prophets almost invariably weave together the triple strands of warning, exhortation, and hope. Hitherto Amos has not had a word of hope to utter. At last, however, he lets a glimpse of the rainbow irradiate the gloom. The overthrow of Israel should be accompanied by the restoration of the fallen booth of David, and, under the rule of a scion of that house, Israel should return from captivity to enjoy days of peaceful happiness, and to be rooted up no more. {Amos 9:11-15}

Hosea, the son of Beeri, was of a somewhat later date than Amos. He, too, "became electric," to flash into meaner and corrupted minds the conviction that formalism is nothing, and that moral sincerity is all in all. That which God requires is not ritual service, but truth in the inward parts. He is one of the saddest of the prophets; but though he mingles prophecies of mercy with his menaces of wrath, the general tenor of his oracles is the same. He pictures the crimes of Ephraim by the image of domestic unfaithfulness, and bids Judah to take warning from the curse involved in her apostasy. {Hosea 4:15-19} Many of his allusions touch upon the days of that deluge of anarchy which followed the death of Jeroboam II (Hosea 4:1-19 - Hosea 6:3). That he was a Northerner appears from the fact that he speaks of the King of Israel as "our king" (Hosea 7:5). Yet he seems to blame the revolt of Jeroboam I (Hosea 1:2, Hosea 8:4), although a prophet had originated it, and he openly aspires after the reunion of the Twelve Tribes under a king of the House of David (Hosea 3:5). He points more distinctly to Assyria, which he frequently names as the scourge of the Divine vengeance, and indicates how vain is the hope of the party which relied on the alliance of Egypt. He speaks with far more distinct contempt of the cherub at Bethel and the shrine at Gilgal, and says scornfully, "Thy calf, O Samaria, has cast thee off." {Hosea 8:5; Hosea 9:15} Shalmaneser had taken Beth-Arbel, and dashed to pieces mother and children. Such would be the fate of the cities of Israel. {Hosea 10:13-14} Yet Hosea, like Amos, cannot conclude with words of wrath and woe, and he ends with a lovely song of the days when Ephraim should be restored, after her true repentance, by the loving tenderness of God.

Jeroboam II must have been aware of some at least of these prophecies. Those of Hosea must have impressed him all the more because Hosea was a prophet of his own kingdom, and all of his allusions were to such ancient and famous shrines of Ephraim as Mizpeh, Tabor, Bethel, Gilgal, Shechem, Jezreel, and Lebanon. He was the Jeremiah of the North, and a passionate patriotism breathes through his melancholy strains. Yet in the powerful rule of Jeroboam II he can only see a godless militarism founded upon massacre (Hosea 1:4), and he felt himself to be the prophet of decadence. Page after page rings with wailing, and with denunciations of drunkenness, robbery, and whoredom-"swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and adultery" (Hosea 4:2).

If Jeroboam was as wise and great as he seemed to have been, he must have seen with his own eyes the ominous clouds on the far horizon, and the deep-seated corruption which was eating like a cancer into the heart of his people. Probably, like many another great sovereign-like Marcus Aurelius when he noted the worthlessness of his son Commodus, like Charlemagne when he burst into tears at the sight of the ships of the Vikings-his thoughts were like those of the ancient and modern proverbs-"When I am dead, let earth be mixed with fire." We have no trace that Jeroboam treated Hosea as did those guilty priests to whom he was a rebuke, and who called him "a fool" and "mad" (Hosea 9:7-8, Hosea 4:6-8, Hosea 5:2). Yet the aged king-he must have reached the unusual age of seventy-three at least, before he ended the longest and most successful reign in the annals of Israel-could hardly have anticipated that within half a year of his death his secure throne would be shaken to its foundation, his dynasty be hurled into oblivion, and that Israel, to whom, as long as he lived, mighty kingdoms had curtsied, should,

"Like a forlorn and desperate castaway,

Do shameful execution on herself."

Yet so it was. Jeroboam II was succeeded by no less than six other kings, but he was the last who died a natural death. Every one of his successors fell a victim to the assassin or the conqueror. His son Zachariah ("Remembered by Jehovah") succeeded him (B.C. 740), the fourth in descent from Jehu. Considering the long reign of his father, he must have ascended the throne at a mature age. But he was the child of evil times. That he should not interrupt the "calf"-worship was a matter of course; but if he be the king of whom we catch a glimpse in Hosea 7:2-7, we see that he partook deeply of the depravity of his day. We are there presented with a deplorable picture. There was thievishness at home, and bands of marauding bandits began to appear from abroad. The king was surrounded by a desperate knot of wicked counselors, who fooled him to the top of his bent, and corrupted him to the utmost of his capacity. They were all scorners and adulterers, whose furious passions the prophet compares to the glowing heat of an oven heated by the baker. They made the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with lying flatteries. On the royal birthday, apparently at some public feast, this band of infamous revelers, who were the boon companions of Zachariah, first made him sick with bottles of wine, and then having set an ambush in waiting, murdered the effeminate and self-indulgent debauchee before all the people. The scene reads like the assassination of a Commodus or an Elagabalus. No one was likely to raise a hand in his favor. Like our Edward II, he was a weakling who followed a great and warlike father. It was evident that troublous times were near at hand, and nothing but the worst disasters could ensue if there was no one better than such a drunkard as Zachariah to stand at the helm of state.

So did the dynasty of the mighty Jehu expire like a torch blown out in stench and smoke.

Its close is memorable most of all because it evoked the magnificent moral and spiritual teaching of Hebrew prophecy. The ideal prophet and the ordinary priest are as necessarily opposed to each other as the saint and the formalist. The glory of prophecy lies in its recognition that right is always right, and wrong always wrong, apart from all expediency and all casuistry, apart from "all prejudices, private interests, and partial affections." "What Jehovah demands," they taught, "is righteousness-neither more nor less; what He hates is injustice. Sin or offence to the Deity is a thing of purely moral character. Morality is that for the sake of which all other things exist; it is the most essential element of all sincere religion. It is no postulate, no idea, but a necessity and a fact; the most intensely living of human powers - Jehovah, the God of hosts. In wrath, in ruin, this holy reality makes its existence known: it annihilates all that is hollow and false."


Verses 8-31

THE AGONY OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM

2 Kings 15:8-31

Shallum

B. C. 740

Menahem

B. C. 740-737

Pekahiah

B. C. 757-735

Pekah

B. C.735-734

"Blood toucheth blood."- Hosea 4:2

"The revolters are profuse in murders."- Hosea 5:2

"They have set up kings, but not by Me: they have made princes, and I knew it not."- Hosea 8:4

"Non tam reges fuere quam lures, latrones, et tyranni."

- WITSIUS, "Decaph.," 326.

WITH the death of Zachariah begins the acute agony of Israel’s dissolution. Four kings were murdered in forty years. Indeed, within two centuries, at least nine kings-Nadab, Elah, Zimri, Tibni, Jehoram, Zachariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah-had made the steps of the throne slippery with blood. Except in the house of Omri, all. the kings of Israel either left no sons or left them to be slain. Amos, by his vision of the basket of summer fruit, had intimated that the sins of Israel were ‘ripe for punishment, and the lesson had been emphasized by the paronomasia of quits, "summer," and queets, "end." {Amos 8:2} The prophet had singled four out of many crimes as the cause of her ruin. They were

(1) greedy oppression of the poor;

(2) land-grabbing;

(3) licentious and idolatrous revelries;

(4) cruelty to poor debtors, and rioting on the proceeds of unjust gains.

In their drunkenness they even tempted God’s Nazarites to break their vows. "Behold," saith Jehovah, "I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves." Even women shared in the common intoxication, and showed themselves utterly shameless, so that Amos contemptuously calls them "fat cows of Bashan upon the mountain of Samaria," whom in punishment the brutal conqueror should drag by the hair out of their ivory palaces, as a fisherman drags his prey out of the water by hooks. {Amos 4:1-3} Shallum, son of Jabesh, the unknown murderer of Zachariah and the usurper of his throne, suffered the fate of Zimri, and only reigned for one month. If his conspiracy was marked by the odious circumstances of treachery and corruption, which we infer from the allusions of Hosea, Shallum richly deserved the swift retribution which fell upon him. He seems to have destroyed Zachariah by means of his best affections-under the guise of friendship, in the midst of boon companionship. But the slayer of his master had no peace, and from the moment of his fruitless crime the unhappy country seems to have been plunged in the horrors of civil war. Some dim glimpses of the evils of the day are gained from the earlier Zechariah, just as some dim glimpses of the horrors of Rome in the days of the later Caesars may be seen in the Apocalypse. The prophet speaks of three shepherds cut off in one month, who abhorred God, and His soul was impatient at them.

Just as Galba, Otho, and Vitellius flit across the stage of the Empire amid war and assassinations, so Zachariah and Shallum are swept away by "dagger-thrusts through the purple." Was there a third? Ewald and others think that they detect a shadowy outline of him and of his name in 2 Kings 15:10. If so, his name was Kobolam, but we know no more of him beyond the fact that "he was, and is not." For the sacred annals are but little concerned with this bloody phantasmagoria of feeble kings, who ruled amid usurpation, anarchy, hostile attacks from without, and civil war within. "Israel," said Hosea, "hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him. They have set up kings, but not by Me: they have made princes, and I knew it not." "They are all as hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings have fallen; there is none among them that calleth upon Me." {Hosea 8:3; Hosea 7:7}

It was perhaps during this distracted epoch that for one moment there was an attempt to place the ruling authority of the nation in the hands of the prophet himself. So it would appear from Zechariah 11:7-14. Of course these chapters may be allegoric throughout, as, in any case, they are in great part. But if so, it becomes more difficult to understand the meaning. What the prophet says is as follows:-First, as though he saw the terrible conflagration of the Assyrian tyranny rolling southwards, and felt it to be irresistible, he bids Lebanon open her doors, that the fire may devour her cedars. There is perhaps an allusion to the death of Jeroboam II in the words, "Howl, fir tree, for the cedar is fallen." He sees in vision the forces of devastation raging among the oaks of Bashan, the forest and the vintage, while the shepherds cry, and the ousted lions roar in vain. Then Jehovah bids him feed "the flock of the slaughter"-the flock sold remorselessly by its rich possessors, and slain, and left unpitied, as the people were despoiled by its nobles and its kings. The prophet undertakes the charge of the miserable flock, and takes two staves, one of which he calls "Prosperity," and the other "Union." While he was thus engaged three shepherds were cut off in one month, whom he loathed, and who abhorred him. But he finds his task hopeless, and flings it up; and in sign that his covenant with the people is broken, he breaks his staff "Prosperity." The nation refused to pay him anything for his services, except a paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver, and these he disdainfully flung into the sacred treasury. {Zechariah 9:1-17} Then seeing that all hope of union between Israel and Judah was at an end, he broke his staff "Union." Lastly, Jehovah says He will raise up a foolish, neglectful, cruel shepherd who would care for nothing but to eat the flesh of the fat and break the hoofs of the flock. And as for this worthless shepherd, the sword should be upon his arm and in his right eye; his arm shall be dried up, and his right eye utterly darkened.

By this cruel and self-seeking shepherd is probably meant Menahem. He had been, according to Josephus, the captain of the guard, and was living at Tirzah, the old beautiful capital of the land. From Tirzah, where he occupied the position of the captain of the chariots, he marched on the ill-supported Shallum. Samaria apparently offered no protection to the usurper. Menahem defeated him and put him to death. Then he proceeded to enforce the allegiance of the rest of the country. An otherwise unknown town of the name of Tiphsach ventured to resist him. Menahem conquered it, and perhaps thinking, as Machiavelli thought, that princes had better exhibit their utmost cruelty at first, to deter any further opposition, he let loose his ferocity on the town in a way which created a shuddering remembrance. As though he had been one of the ferocious heathen, who had never been restrained by the knowledge of God, he exhibited the extreme of callous brutality by ripping up all the women that were with child. In this he followed the remorseless example of Hazael. Hosea had prophesied that this should be the fate of Samaria; {Hosea 13:16} Amos had denounced the Ammonites for acting thus in the cities of Gilead; {Amos 1:13} Shalmaneser III had, in B.C. 732, thus avenged himself on the resistance of Beth-Arbel, and Assyria was ultimately to meet an analogous retribution, {Nahum 3:10} as also was Babylon. {Isaiah 13:16} But that a king of Ephraim, of God’s chosen people, should act thus to his own brethren was a horrible portent, ominous of swift destruction.

And the vengeance came. Menahem reigned, at least in name, for ten years; for the sword which had slain mothers with their unborn infants reduced the stricken people to terrified silence. But at this epoch Assyria woke once more from her lethargy, and became the scourge of God to the guilty people and their guiltier kings. For a whole century the Assyrians had either been governed by kings who had abjured the lust of blood and conquest, or had been too seriously occupied on their own eastern and northern frontiers to intermeddle with the southern kingdoms, or break down the barriers erected by the confederacy of Hamath and Damascus between Nineveh and the weaker principalities of Palestine. But now (B.C. 745) there came to the throne a king who, in Chaldaea, was known by the name of Pul, and in Assyria by the name of Tiglath-Pileser; and being too formidable for any power to stay his path, he marched against Menahem. Already he was lord of the world from the Caspian to the Gulf of Persia; already he had subdued Babylonia, Elam, Media, Armenia, eastward-Mesopotamia and Syria westward. Who was Menahem, the petty usurper of a tenth-rate kingdom, that he should withstand his power or even retard his advance?

The cruel usurper was in no condition to resist him. The brand of Cain was on him and his kingdom. How could the weak, impoverished, harassed troops of Israel stand up in battle against those numberless serried ranks, or withstand their tremendous discipline? If the very name of Persia had once stricken terror into the brave Greeks before the spell of Persian ascendency was broken at Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis, much more did the name of Assyria make the hearts of the wretched Israelites melt like water. They now for the first time saw those bearded warriors with their broad swords, their tremendous bows, their fierce, sensual faces, their thickset figures. In the language of the prophets we still hear the echo of the fears which they excited by their swift, unfaltering marches, their sleepless vigilance, their girded loins, stout sandals, and barbed arrows. {Isaiah 5:26-29}

"Their horses’ hoofs," says Isaiah, "shall be like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind: their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and carry it away safe, and there shall be none to deliver. And they shall roar against them in that day like the roaring of the sea; and ii one look unto the land, behold darkness and distress, and the light is darkened in the clouds thereof."

Ancient Assyria lay beneath the Snowy Mountains of Kurdistan; and its capital, Nineveh-near Mosul, Kouyunjik, and Neby-Junus-lay six hundred miles from the Gulf of Persia. The people spoke, as their descendants still speak, a dialect of Syriac, akin both grammatically and structurally to Hebrew. Assyria was constantly at war with Babylonia; but for the most part the kings of Assyria held Babylon in subjection, and Tiglath-Pileser was a king of the Chaldaeans under the name Pul, as well as a king of Nineveh.

Menahem was warrior enough to know how hopeless it was to struggle against these trained forces. He was not even secure on his own throne. He thought it best to offer himself without resistance as a feudatory, if the Assyrian King would confirm his sovereignty. Tiglath-Pileser did not think Menahem worth more trouble, and was graciously pleased to accept by way of bribe a tribute of a thousand talents of silver, or about f125,000. This, however, as we learn from the "Eponym Canon," was not all. Menahem had to pay a further tribute year by year. Later on, in 738, Shalmaneser mentions Minik-himmi (Menahem), as well as Rasunnu (Rezin), among his tributaries.

The Assyrian withdrew, and Menahem had to exact this vast sum of money from his miserable subjects. To tax the poor was hopeless. He found that there were some sixty thousand persons who might be reckoned among the wealthier farmers and proprietors, {Comp. Job 20:15; Ruth 2:1} and from them he at once exacted fifty shekels of silver (more than 3 pounds) apiece. Probably they thought that to pay the sum demanded was not too heavy a price for the retirement of these frightful Assyrians, whose forces Tiglath-Pileser did not withdraw until he had the money in hand. The event took place in 738, and Tiglath-Pileser continued to reign till 727. How bitterly the burden of foreign tribute was felt appears from Hosea 8:9-10, which should perhaps be rendered, "They are gone up to Assyria like a wild ass alone by himself. Ephraim hath hired lovers. And they begin to be minished by reason of the burden of the king of princes." "The king of princes" was the haughty title usurped by Tiglath-Pileser, who said, "Are not my princes all of them kings?". {Isaiah 10:8} All this was a fulfillment of what Hosea had foreseen:-

"Ephraim is oppressed, he is crushed in judgment, because he was content to walk after vanity. Therefore am I unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness. When Ephraim saw his sickness, and the house of Judah his wound, then went Ephraim to Assyria, and sent unto an avenging king: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound. For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the House of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him."

The Assyrian was irresistible, because he was the destined instrument of the wrath of God. The "mixing, with the heathens" was a sin, and Israel in cooing to Assyria was like a foolish dove; but the day sometimes comes to doomed nations when no course can save them from the fate which they have provoked. {Hosea 7:8-12} Not long afterwards Menahem died, and he had sufficiently established his rule to be succeeded as a matter of course by his son Pekahiah. But "Revenge and wrong bring forth their kind; The foul cubs like their parents are."

Samaria had fearful object-lessons in the apparently immediate success of murder and rebellion. The prize looked near and splendid: the vengeance might be belated or might not come. Of Pekahiah we are told absolutely nothing but that he reigned two years, with this stereotyped addition, that he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehova by continuing the calf-worship. After this brief and uneventful reign, his captain Pekah got together fifty fierce Gileadites, and with the aid of two otherwise unknown friends, Argob and Arieh, murdered Pekahiah in his own harem. Argob was probably so named from the district in Bashan, and Arieh was a fit name for a lion-faced Gadite. {1 Chronicles 12:8}

The sacred historian troubles himself but little about these kings. His annals of them are brief to extreme meagerness. Like the prophet, he viewed them as God-abandoned phantoms of guilty royalty.

"They that cry unto me, My God, we, Israel, know thee.

Israel hath cast off that which is good:

The enemy shall pursue him.

They have set up kings, but not by Me;

They have removed them, and I knew it not:

Of their silver and their gold have they made them idols.

That they may be cut off.

He hath cast off thy calf, O Samaria."

Probably Pekahiah was, as so often happens, the weak son of a vigorous father. The times could not tolerate incapable sovereigns; and the fact that Pekah not only maintained himself on the throne for twenty years, but was able to take active steps of aggression against Jerusalem, seems to show that he was a man of some administrative capacity. If he had not achieved political and military importance, it would hardly have been worth while for a fierce and powerful king like Rezin, the last king of Syria, to form so close an alliance with him. Probably Rezin saw that his throne and his very existence were in danger, and Pekah wished with Rezin’s aid to resist to the uttermost the encroachments of Assyria, and escape the burdensome tribute which Menahem had paid. Indeed, it may well be that Pekahiah’s passive continuance of this tribute may have been distasteful to the people of the land, and that they condoned or even tacitly aided Pekah’s rebellion in order to get rid of it, and to find protection in an abler monarch. It was the last, perhaps the only, chance for the kings of Syria and of Israel. As we hear no more of Hamath as a member of the alliance, we must suppose that it had now been reduced to impotence and vassalage by the all-powerful Assyrian. If, however, there was to be any over-balance to the colossal menace of Nineveh, it could only be by a large confederacy; and it may have been the refusal of Jotham to join that confederacy, on the death of his father Uzziah, which caused the joint invasion of Rezin and Pekah to force him to accept their alliance or to suppress him altogether. In that case they might have formed a close alliance with Egypt, and the forces of the united South might, they fancied, prove to be a match for the forces of the North. {2 Kings 15:37}

Whatever designs they may have formed against Jotham, or to whatever extent they may have annoyed him, it was not till the reign of his son Ahaz that they became formidable and ruinous. Of this we shall say more in recounting the reign of Ahaz. All that we need now remark is that their bold aggression on Judah became the cause of utter destruction to them both. They advanced against Ahaz, and overran his helpless country. It was their object to depose the descendant of David, and to crown in his place a certain unnamed "son of Tabeal"; whom Ewald supposed to have been a Syrian, but whose name may possibly furnish a specimen of the later Jewish device of Gematria.

It is not impossible that behind these events we may find the efforts and yearnings of a party which cared more for Israel’s unity than for David’s throne. Such a party may easily have sprung up during the splendid, prosperous reign of Jeroboam II. It has been conjectured by some that the election of Uzziah by the people-delayed, according to one reckoning, for twelve years-was in reality the triumph of the party which felt an unquenchable allegiance to David’s house. In Deuteronomy 33:1-29 Reuben is put before Judah; Jeshurun (i.e., Israel) is magnified far more than Judah; and some Northern shrine in Zebulun, as well as the Temple, is celebrated as a sanctuary. That there were men in Jerusalem who preferred Rezin and Pekahiah to their own king is clearly stated in Isaiah. He compares them to those who prefer a turbid torrent to a soft, sweet stream. "Because," he says, "this people despise the waters of Shiloah that flow softly, and take delight in Rezin and Remaliah’s son; now, therefore, the Lord bringeth upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the King of Assyria, and all his glory." {Isaiah 8:6-7} Isaiah seems to have had a contempt for the whole attack. He told Ahaz not to fear for the stumps of those two smoking firebrands Rezin, King of Syria, and the Israelitish usurper, whom he only condescends to call "Remaliah’s son." He promises the trembling Ahaz that, since he had faithlessly refused a sign, God would give him a sign. The sign was that the young woman who accompanied Isaiah-perhaps his youthful wife-should bear a son, whose name should be called Immanuel; and that before the child Immanuel whose designation, "God with us," was an omen of the loftiest hope-should be of an age to distinguish evil from good, the Northern land, which Ahaz abhorred, should be forsaken of both her kings.

The prophecy came true in every particular. Rezin and Pekah swept all before them, and besieged Jerusalem; but they wasted their time in vain before the fortifications which Jotham had strengthened and repaired. Obliged to raise the siege, Rezin carried his army southward, and indemnified himself by seizing Elath, by driving out the Judaean garrison, and replacing them with Syrians. It was the last gleam of Syrian success, before the final overthrow of Damascus which prophecy had often and emphatically foretold.

Pekah also withdrew his forces-no doubt compelled to do so by the step which Ahaz took in his desperation. For now the King of Judah invoked the protection and invited the active interference of Tiglath-Pileser against his enemies-"to save him out of the hand of the King of Syria, and out of the hand of the King of Israel, who were risen up against him."

Rezin and Damascus first felt the might of the Assyrian’s conquering arm. The account of his decisive conquest is preserved in the "Eponym Canon" and the passages which refer to the defeat of the Syrians will be found in the First Appendix at the end of the volume. It appears from the monuments that Rezin (Rasannu) lost not only his kingdom, but his life.

It is the death-knell of Aramaean greatness, as Amos had foretold.

"Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; Because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron: But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, Which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad. And I will break the bar of Damascus, And cut off him that sitteth [on the throne] in the Valley of Aven, And him that holdeth the scepter from Beth-Eden: And the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, Saith Jehovah."

Rezin was slain-how we know not; very probably by one of the horrible methods of torture-by being flayed alive, or decapitated, or having his lips and nose cut off-which were practiced by these demon-kings of Nineveh.

Nor did Pekah escape. Tiglath-Pileser advanced against the northern part of his dominions, and afflicted the land of Zebulon and Naphtali. Ijon; Abel-beth-Maachah, the city of Elisha; Zanoah, the ancient sanctuary of Kedesh-Naphtali, the home of the hero Barak; Hazor, the former capital of the Canaanitish king Jabin; Gilead; Galilee, -all submitted to him, apparently without striking a serious blow. He dealt with the miserable inhabitants in the way familiar to kings of Assyria. He deported them en masse into a strange country of which they did not understand the language, and in which they were reduced to hopeless subjection, while he supplied their places by aliens from various parts of his own dominions. There could be no securer method of reducing to paralysis all their national aspirations. Strangers in a strange land, they forgot their nationality, forgot their religion, forgot their language, forgot their traditions. Their sole resource was to plunge into material pursuits, and to melt away into indistinguishable obliteration among the neighboring heathen. It was the beginning of the Northern Captivity-of the loss of the Ten Tribes.

As Tiglath-Pileser thus permanently subdued and depopulated the land of the Northern Tribes, it is a Jewish tradition that at this time he carried away the golden "calf" from Dan among his spoils. Scripture does not record the fact, though in Hosea {Hosea 8:5} there may be an allusion to the fate of that at Bethel, whether the right version be "He hath cast off thy calf, O Samaria," or "Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off." "The workman made it," he continues; "therefore it is not God: for the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces." And again: {Hosea 10:5} "The people of Samaria shall fear because of the heifer of the House of Vanity: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the chemarim [i.e., the black-robed false priests thereof] shall tremble for it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed. It [the idol] shall also be carried to Assyria for a present to King Combat."

For a time Pekah escaped; but unsuccess is fatal to a murderous usurper, weakened by the loss and plunder of dominions which he is unable to defend. Instead of wasting time in the siege of a strong city like Samaria, Tiglath-Pileser in all probability stirred up Hoshea, the son of Elath, to rise in conspiracy against his master and slay him. For Pekah and Israel seem to have made light of the Northern raid. They said in their pride and stoutness of heart, "The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with new stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars." Such pretence of security was ill-timed and senseless, and Isaiah denounced it. "Therefore," he said, "Jehovah hath set up against Israel the adversaries of Rezin [i.e., the Assyrians], and hath stirred up his enemies; the Syrians on the east, and the Philistines on the west; and they have devoured Israel with open mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. Yet the people have not turned unto Him that smote them, neither have they sought the Lord of hosts. Therefore Jehovah hath cut off from Israel palm-branch and rush in one day. The elder and the honorable man, he is the head; and the prophet that speaketh lies, he is the tail. For they that lead this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are swallowed up."

The following verses furnish one of the numerous pictures of the anarchy and abounding misery of these evil days. "For wickedness burneth as the fire: it devoureth the briers and thorns; yea, it kindleth in the thickets of the forest, and they roll upwards in thick clouds of smoke. Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts is the land burnt up; the people also are the fuel of fire: no man spareth his brother. And one shall snatch on the right, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm: Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still."

We are told in the Book of Kings that Pekah reigned for twenty years; but some of these later reigns must be shortened to suit the exigencies of known chronological data. It seems probable that he occupied the throne for a much shorter time.

Such was the weakened, harassed, vassal kingdom-the gaunt specter of itself-to the throne of which, after a period of anarchy and chaos, Hoshea, by conspiracy and murder, succeeded as the miserable feudatory of Assyria.


Verses 32-38

elete_me 2 Kings 15:32-38

AZARIAH-UZZIAH

B.C. 783 (?)- 737

JOTHAM

B.C. 737-735

2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Kings 15:32-38

"This is vanity, and it is a sore sickness."

- Ecclesiastes 6:2.

BEFORE we watch the last "glimmerings and decays" of the Northern Kingdom, we must once more revert to the fortunes of the House of David. Judah partook of the better fortunes of Israel. She, too, enjoyed the respite caused by the crippling of the power of Syria, and the cessation from aggression of the Assyrian kings, who, for a century, were either unambitious monarchs like Assurdan, or were engaged in fighting on their own northern and eastern frontiers. Judah, too, like Israel, was happy in the long and wise governance of a faithful king.

This king was Azariah ("My strength is Jehovah"), the son of Amaziah. He is called Uzziah by the Chronicles, and in some verses of the brief references to his long reign in the Book of Kings. It is not certain that he was the eldest son of Amaziah; but he was so distinctly the ablest, that, at the age of sixteen, he was chosen king by "all the people." His official title to the world must have been Azariah, for in that form his name occurs in the Assyrian records. Uzziah seems to have been the more familiar title which he bore among his people. There seems to be an allusion to both names-Jehovah-his-helper, and Jehovah-his-strength-in the Chronicles: "God helped him, and made him to prosper; and his name spread far abroad, and he was marvelously helped, till he was strong."

The Book of Kings only devotes a few verses to him; but from the Chronicler we learn much more about his prosperous activity. His first achievement was to recover and fortify the port of Elath, on the Red Sea, {2 Chronicles 26:2-15} and to reduce the Edomites to the position they had held in the earlier days of his father’s reign. This gave security to his commerce, and at once "his name spread far abroad, even to the entering in of Egypt."

He next subdued the Philistines; took Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod; dismantled their fortifications, filled them with Hebrew colonists, and "smote all Palestine with a rod."

He then chastised the roving Arabs of the Negeb or south country in Gur-Baal and Maon, and suppressed their plundering incursions.

His next achievement was to reduce the Ammonite Emirs to the position of tributaries, and to enforce from them rights of pasturage for the large flocks, not only in the low country (shephelah), but in the southern wilderness (midbar), and in the carmels or fertile grounds among the Trans-Jordanic hills.

Having thus subdued his enemies on all sides, he turned his attention to home affairs-built towers, strengthened the walls of Jerusalem at its most assailable points, provided catapults and other instruments of war, and rendered a permanent benefit to Jerusalem by irrigation and the storing of rain-water in tanks.

All these improvements so greatly increased his wealth and importance that he was able to renew David’s old force of heroes (Gibborim), and to increase their number from six hundred to two thousand six hundred, whom he carefully enrolled, equipped with armor, and trained in the use of engines of war. And he not only extended his boundaries southwards and eastwards, but appears to have been strong enough, after the death of Jeroboam II, to make an expedition northwards, and to have headed a Syrian coalition against Tiglath-Pileser III, in B.C. 738. He is mentioned in two notable fragments of the annals of the eighth year of this Assyrian king. He is there called Azrijahu, and both his forces and those of Hamath seem to have suffered a defeat.

It is distressing to find that a King so good and so great ended his days in overwhelming and irretrievable misfortune. The glorious reign had a ghastly conclusion. All that the historian tells us is that "the Lord smote the king, so that he was a leper, and dwelt in a several [i.e., a separate] house." The word rendered "a several house" may perhaps mean (as in the margin of the A.V) "a lazar house," like the Belt el Massakin or "house of the unfortunate," the hospital or abode of lepers, outside the walls of Jerusalem. The rendering is uncertain, but it is by no means impossible that the prevalence of the affliction had, even in those early days, created a retreat for those thus smitten, especially as they formed a numerous class. Obviously the king could no more fulfill his royal duties. A leper becomes a horrible object, and no one would have been more anxious than the unhappy Azariah himself to conceal his aspect from the eyes of his people. His son Jotham was set over the household; and though he is not called a regent or joint-king-for this institution does not seem to have existed among the ancient Hebrews-he acted as judge over the people of the land.

We are told that Isaiah wrote the annals of this king’s reign, but we do not know whether it was from Isaiah’s biography that the Chronicler took the story of the manner in which Uzziah was smitten with leprosy. The Chronicler says that his heart was puffed up with his successes and his prosperity, and that he was consequently led to thrust himself into the priest’s office by burning incense in the Temple. Solomon appears to have done the same without the least question of opposition; but now the times were changed, and Azariah, the high priest, and eighty of his colleagues went in a body to prevent Uzziah, to rebuke him, and to order him out of the Holy Place. The opposition kindled him into the fiercest anger, and at this moment of hot altercation the red spot of leprosy suddenly rose and burned upon his forehead. The priests looked with horror on the fatal sign; and the stricken king, himself horrified at this awful visitation of God, ceased to resist the priests, and rushed forth to relieve the Temple of his unclean presence, and to linger out the sad remnant of his days in the living death of that most dishonoring disease. Surely no man was ever smitten down from the summits of splendor to a lower abyss of unspeakable calamity! We can but trust that the misery only laid waste the few last years of his reign; for Jotham was twenty-five when he began to reign, and he must have been more than a mere boy when he was set to perform his father’s duties.

So the glory of Uzziah faded into dust and darkness. At the age of sixty-eight death came as the welcome release from his miseries, and "they buried him with his fathers in the City of David." The Levitically scrupulous Chronicler adds that he was not laid in the actual sepulcher of his fathers, but in a field of burial which belonged to them-"for they said, He is a leper." The general outline of his reign resembled that of his father’s. It began well; it fell by pride; it closed in misery.

The annals of his son Jotham were not eventful, and he died at the age of forty-one or earlier. He is said to have reigned sixteen years, but there are insuperable difficulties about the chronology of his reign, which can only be solved by hazardous conjectures. He was a good king, "howbeit the high places were not removed." The Chronicler speaks of him chiefly as a builder. He built or restored the northern gate of the Temple, and defended Judah with fortresses and towns. But the glory and strength of his father’s reign faded away under his rule. He did indeed suppress a revolt of the Ammonites, and exacted from them a heavy indemnity; but shortly afterwards the inaction of Assyria led to an alliance between Pekah, King of Israel, and Rezin, King of Damascus; and these kings harassed Jotham-perhaps because he refused to become a member of their coalition. The good king must also have been pained by the signs of moral degeneracy all around him in the customs of his own people. It was in the year that King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw his first vision, and he gives us a deplorable picture of contemporary laxity. Whatever the king may have been, the princes were no better than "rulers of Sodom," and the people were "people of Gomorrah." There was abundance of lip-worship, but little security; plentiful religionism, but no godliness. Superstition went hand in hand with formalism, and the scrupulosity of outward service was "made a substitute for righteousness and true holiness. This was the deadliest characteristic of this epoch, as we find it portrayed in the first chapter of Isaiah. The faithful city had become a harlot-but not in outward semblance. She "reflected heaven on her surface, and hid Gomorrah in her heart." Righteousness had dwelt in her-but now murderers; but the murderers wore phylacteries, and for a pretence made long prayers. It was this deep-seated hypocrisy, this pretence of religion without the reality, which called forth the loudest crashes of Isaiah’s thunder. There is more hope for a country avowedly guilty and irreligious than for one which makes its scrupulous ceremonialism a cloak of maliciousness. And thus there lay at the heart of Isaiah’s message that protest for bare morality, as constituting the end and the essence of religion, which we find in all the earliest and greatest prophets:-

"Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; Give ear unto the Law of our God, ye people Of Gomorrah! To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; And I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to see My face, who hath required this at your hands, to trample My courts? Bring no more vain oblations! Incense is an abomination unto Me: New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies-I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting Wash you! make you clean!" {Isaiah 1:10-17}

Of Jotham we hear nothing more. He died a natural death at an early age. If the years of his reign are counted from the time when his father’s affliction developed on him the responsibilities of office, it is probable that he did not long survive the illustrious leper, but was buried soon after him in the City of David his father.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 15:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-kings-15.html.

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