|« Prev||Chapter VI. Joash and Amaziah. 2 Chron. xxiv.-xxv.||Next »|
Chapter VI. Joash and Amaziah. 2 Chron. xxiv.-xxv.
For Chronicles, as for the book of Kings, the main interest of the reign of Joash is the repairing of the Temple; but the later narrative introduces modifications which give a somewhat different complexion to the story. Both authorities tell us that Joash did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah all the days of Jehoiada, but the book of Kings immediately adds that “the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.”398 Seeing that Jehoiada exercised the royal authority during the minority of Joash, this toleration of the high places must have had the sanction of the high-priest. Now the chronicler and his contemporaries had been educated in the belief that the Pentateuch was the ecclesiastical code of the monarchy; they found it impossible to credit a statement that the high-priest had sanctioned any other sanctuary besides the temple of Zion; accordingly they omitted the verse in question.
In the earlier narrative of the repairing of the Temple [pg 404] the priests are ordered by Joash to use certain sacred dues and offerings to repair the breaches of the house; but after some time had elapsed it was found that the breaches had not been repaired: and when Joash remonstrated with the priests, they flatly refused to have anything to do with the repairs or with receiving funds for the purpose. Their objections were, however, overruled; and Jehoiada placed beside the altar a chest with a hole in the lid, into which “the priests put all the money that was brought into the house of Jehovah.”399 When it was sufficiently full, the king's scribe and the high-priest counted the money, and put it up in bags.
There were several points in this earlier narrative which would have furnished very inconvenient precedents, and were so much out of keeping with the ideas and practices of the second Temple that, by the time the chronicler wrote, a new and more intelligible version of the story was current among the ministers of the Temple. To begin with, there was an omission which would have grated very unpleasantly on the feelings of the chronicler. In this long narrative, wholly taken up with the affairs of the Temple, nothing is said about the Levites. The collecting and receiving of money might well be supposed to belong to them; and accordingly in Chronicles the Levites are first associated with the priests in this matter, and then the priests drop out of the narrative, and the Levites alone carry out the financial arrangements.
Again, it might be understood from the book of Kings that sacred dues and offerings, which formed the revenue of the priests and Levites, were diverted by [pg 405] the king's orders to the repair of the fabric. The chronicler was naturally anxious that there should be no mistake on this point; the ambiguous phrases are omitted, and it is plainly indicated that funds were raised for the repairs by means of a special tax ordained by Moses. Joash “assembled the priests and the Levites, and said to them, Go out into the cities of Judah, and gather of all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that ye hasten the matter. Howbeit the Levites hastened it not.” The remissness of the priests in the original narrative is here very faithfully and candidly transferred to the Levites. Then, as in the book of Kings, Joash remonstrates with Jehoiada, but the terms of his remonstrance are altogether different: here he complains because the Levites have not been required “to bring in out of Judah and out of Jerusalem the tax appointed by Moses the servant of Jehovah and by the congregation of Israel for the tent of the testimony,”i.e., the Tabernacle, containing the Ark and the tables of the Law. The reference apparently is to the law400 that when a census was taken a poll-tax of a half-shekel a head should be paid for the service of the Tabernacle. As one of the main uses of a census was to facilitate the raising of taxes, this law might not unfairly be interpreted to mean that when occasion arose, or perhaps even every year, a census should be taken in order that this poll-tax might be levied. Nehemiah arranged for a yearly poll-tax of a third of a shekel for the incidental expenses of the Temple.401 Here, however, the half-shekel prescribed in Exodus is intended; and it should be observed that this poll-tax [pg 406] was to be levied, not once only but “from year to year.” The chronicler then inserts a note to explain why these repairs were necessary: “The sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman, had broken up the house of God; and also all the dedicated things of the house of Jehovah they bestowed upon the Baals.” Here we are confronted with a further difficulty. All Jehoram's sons except Ahaziah were murdered by the Arabs in their father's life-time. Who are these “sons of Athaliah” who broke up the Temple? Jehoram was about thirty-seven when his sons were massacred, so that some of them may have been old enough to break up the Temple. One would think that “the dedicated things” might have been recovered for Jehovah when Athaliah was overthrown; but possibly, when the people retaliated by breaking into the house of Baal, there were Achans among them, who appropriated the plunder.
Having remonstrated with Jehoiada, the king took matters into his own hands; and he, not Jehoiada, had a chest made and placed, not beside the altar—such an arrangement savoured of profanity—but without at the gate of the Temple. This little touch is very suggestive. The noise and bustle of paying over money, receiving it, and putting it into the chest, would have mingled distractingly with the solemn ritual of sacrifice. In modern times the tinkle of threepenny pieces often tends to mar the effect of an impressive appeal and to disturb the quiet influences of a communion service. The Scotch arrangement, by which a plate covered with a fair white cloth is placed in the porch of a church and guarded by two modern Levites or elders, is much more in accordance with Chronicles.
Then, instead of sending out Levites to collect the [pg 407] tax, proclamation was made that the people themselves should bring their offerings. Obedience apparently was made a matter of conscience, not of solicitation. Perhaps it was because the Levites felt that sacred dues should be given freely that they were not forward to make yearly tax-collecting expeditions. At any rate, the new method was signally successful. Day after day the princes and people gladly brought their offerings, and money was gathered in abundance. Other passages suggest that the chronicler was not always inclined to trust to the spontaneous generosity of the people for the support of the priests and Levites; but he plainly recognised that free-will offerings are more excellent than the donations which are painfully extracted by the yearly visits of official collectors. He would probably have sympathised with the abolition of pew-rents.
As in the book of Kings, the chest was emptied at suitable intervals; but instead of the high-priest being associated with the king's scribe, as if they were on a level and both of them officials of the royal court, the chief priest's officer assists the king's scribe, so that the chief priest is placed on a level with the king himself.
The details of the repairs in the two narratives differ considerably in form, but for the most part agree in substance; the only striking point is that they are apparently at variance as to whether vessels of silver or gold were or were not made for the renovated Temple.
Then follows the account402 of the ingratitude and apostacy of Joash and his people. As long as Jehoiada lived, the services of the Temple were regularly performed, [pg 408] and Judah remained faithful to its God; but at last he died, full of days: a hundred and thirty years old. In his life-time he had exercised royal authority, and when he died he was buried like a king: “They buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel and toward God and His house.”403 Like Nero when he shook off the control of Seneca and Burrhus, Joash changed his policy as soon as Jehoiada was dead. Apparently he was a weak character, always following some one's leading. His freedom from the influence that had made his early reign decent and honourable was not, as in Nero's case, his own act. The change of policy was adopted at the suggestion of the princes of Judah. Kings, princes, and people fell back into the old wickedness; they forsook the Temple and served idols. Yet Jehovah did not readily give them up to their own folly, nor hastily inflict punishment; He sent, not one prophet, but many, to bring them back to Himself, but they would not hearken. At last Jehovah made one last effort to win Joash back; this time He chose for His messenger a priest who had special personal claims on the favourable attention of the king. The prophet was Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, to whom Joash owed his life and his throne. The name was a favourite one in Israel, and was borne by two other prophets besides the son of Jehoiada. Its very etymology constituted an appeal to the conscience of Joash: it is compounded of the sacred name and a root meaning “to remember”. The Jews were adepts at extracting from such a combination all its possible applications. [pg 409] The most obvious was that Jehovah would remember the sin of Judah, but the recent prophets sent to recall the sinners to their God showed that Jehovah also remembered their former righteousness and desired to recall it to them and them to it; they should remember Jehovah. Moreover, Joash should remember the teaching of Jehoiada and his obligations to the father of the man now addressing him. Probably Joash did remember all this when, in the striking Hebrew idiom, “the spirit of God clothed itself with Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people and said unto them, Thus saith God: Why transgress ye the commandments of Jehovah, to your hurt? Because ye have forsaken Jehovah, He hath also forsaken you.” This is the burden of the prophetic utterances in Chronicles404; the converse is stated by Irenæus when he says that to follow the Saviour is to partake of salvation. Though the truth of this teaching had been enforced again and again by the misfortunes that had befallen Judah under apostate kings, Joash paid no heed to it, nor did he remember the kindness which Jehoiada had done him; that is to say, he showed no gratitude towards the house of Jehoiada. Perhaps an uncomfortable sense of obligation to the father only embittered him the more against his son. But the son of the high-priest could not be dealt with as summarily as Asa dealt with Hanani when he put him in prison. The king might have been indifferent to the wrath of Jehovah, but the son of the man who had for years ruled Judah and Jerusalem must have had a strong party at his back. [pg 410] Accordingly the king and his adherents conspired against Zechariah, and they stoned him with stones by the king's command. This Old Testament martyr died in a very different spirit from that of Stephen; his prayer was, not, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” but “Jehovah, look upon it and require it.” His prayer did not long remain unanswered. Within a year the Syrians405 came against Joash; he had a very great host, but he was powerless against a small company of the Divinely commissioned avengers of Zechariah. The tempters who had seduced the king into apostacy were a special mark for the wrath of Jehovah: the Syrians destroyed all the princes, and sent their spoil to the king of Damascus. Like Asa and Jehoram, Joash suffered personal punishment in the shape of “great diseases,” but his end was even more tragic than theirs. One conspiracy avenged another: in his own household there were adherents of the family of Jehoiada: “Two of his own servants conspired against him for the blood of Zechariah, and slew him on his bed; and they buried him in the city of David, and not in the sepulchres of the kings.”
The chronicler's biography of Joash might have been specially designed to remind his readers that the most careful education must sometimes fail of its purpose. Joash had been trained from his earliest years in the Temple itself, under the care of Jehoiada and of his aunt Jehoshabeath, the high-priest's wife. He had no doubt been carefully instructed in the religion and sacred history of Israel, and had been continually surrounded by the best religious influences of his age. For [pg 411] Judah, in the chronicler's estimation, was even then the one home of the true faith. These holy influences had been continued after Joash had attained to manhood, and Jehoiada was careful to provide that the young king's harem should be enlisted in the cause of piety and good government. We may be sure that the two wives whom Jehoiada selected for his pupil were consistent worshippers of Jehovah and loyal to the Law and the Temple. No daughter of the house of Ahab, no “strange wife” from Egypt, Ammon, or Moab, would be allowed the opportunity of undoing the good effects of early training. Moreover, we might have expected the character developed by education to be strengthened by exercise. The early years of his reign were occupied by zealous activity in the service of the Temple. The pupil outstripped his master, and the enthusiasm of the youthful king found occasion to rebuke the tardy zeal of the venerable high-priest.
And yet all this fair promise was blighted in a day. The piety carefully fostered for half a life-time gave way before the first assaults of temptation, and never even attempted to reassert itself. Possibly the brief and fragmentary records from which the chronicler had to make his selection unduly emphasise the contrast between the earlier and later years of the reign of Joash; but the picture he draws of the failure of best of tutors and governors is unfortunately only too typical. Julian the Apostate was educated by a distinguished Christian prelate, Eusebius of Nicomedia, and was trained in a strict routine of religious observances; yet he repudiated Christianity at the earliest safe opportunity. His apostacy, like that of Joash, was probably characterised by base ingratitude. At Constantine's death the troops in Constantinople [pg 412] massacred nearly all the princes of the imperial family, and Julian, then only six years old, is said to have been saved and concealed in a church by Mark, Bishop of Arethusa. When Julian became emperor, he repaid this obligation by subjecting his benefactor to cruel tortures because he had destroyed a heathen temple and refused to make any compensation. Imagine Joash requiring Jehoiada to make compensation for pulling down a high place!
The parallel of Julian may suggest a partial explanation of the fall of Joash. The tutelage of Jehoiada may have been too strict, monotonous, and prolonged; in choosing wives for the young king, the aged priest may not have made an altogether happy selection; Jehoiada may have kept Joash under control until he was incapable of independence and could only pass from one dominant influence to another. When the high-priest's death gave the king an opportunity of changing his masters, a reaction from the too urgent insistence upon his duty to the Temple may have inclined Joash to listen favourably to the solicitations of the princes.
But perhaps the sins of Joash are sufficiently accounted for by his ancestry. His mother was Zibiah of Beersheba, and therefore probably a Jewess. Of her we know nothing further good or bad. Otherwise his ancestors for two generations had been uniformly bad. His father and grandfather were the wicked kings Jehoram and Ahaziah; his grandmother was Athaliah; and he was descended from Ahab, and possibly from Jezebel. When we recollect that his mother Zibiah was a wife of Ahaziah and had probably been selected by Athaliah, we cannot suppose that the element she contributed to his character would do much to counteract the evil he inherited from his father.
The chronicler's account of his successor Amaziah is equally disappointing; he also began well and ended miserably. In the opening formulæ of the history of the new reign and in the account of the punishment of the assassins of Joash, the chronicler closely follows the earlier narrative, omitting, as usual, the statement that this good king did not take away the high places. Like his pious predecessors, Amaziah in his earlier and better years was rewarded with a great army406 and military success; and yet the muster-roll of his forces shows how the sins and calamities of the recent wicked reigns had told on the resources of Judah. Jehoshaphat could command more than eleven hundred and sixty thousand soldiers; Amaziah has only three hundred thousand.
These were not sufficient for the king's ambition; by the Divine grace, he had already amassed wealth, in spite of the Syrian ravages at the close of the preceding reign: and he laid out a hundred talents of silver in purchasing the services of as many thousand Israelites, thus falling into the sin for which Jehoshaphat had twice been reproved and punished. Jehovah, however, arrested Amaziah's employment of unholy allies at the outset. A man of God came to him and exhorted him not to let the army of Israel go with him, because “Jehovah is not with Israel”; if he had courage and faith to go with only his three hundred thousand Jews, all would be well, otherwise God would cast him down, as He had done Ahaziah. The statement that Jehovah was not with Israel might have been understood in a sense that would seem almost blasphemous to the [pg 414] chronicler's contemporaries; he is careful therefore to explain that here “Israel” simply means “the children of Ephraim.”
Amaziah obeyed the prophet, but was naturally distressed at the thought that he had spent a hundred talents for nothing: “What shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel?” He did not realise that the Divine alliance would be worth more to him than many hundred talents of silver; or perhaps he reflected that Divine grace is free, and that he might have saved his money. One would like to believe that he was anxious to recover this silver in order to devote it to the service of the sanctuary; but he was evidently one of those sordid souls who like, as the phrase goes, “to get their religion for nothing.” No wonder Amaziah went astray! We can scarcely be wrong in detecting a vein of contempt in the prophet's answer: “Jehovah can give thee much more than this.”
This little episode carries with it a great principle. Every crusade against an established abuse is met with the cry, “What shall we do for the hundred talents?”—for the capital invested in slaves or in gin-shops; for English revenues from alcohol or Indian revenues from opium? Few have faith to believe that the Lord can provide for financial deficits, or, if we may venture to indicate the method in which the Lord provides, that a nation will ever be able to pay its way by honest finance. Let us note, however, that Amaziah was asked to sacrifice his own talents, and not other people's.
Accordingly Amaziah sent the mercenaries home; and they returned in great dudgeon, offended by the slight put upon them and disappointed at the loss of prospective plunder. The king's sin in hiring Israelite [pg 415] mercenaries was to suffer a severer punishment than the loss of money. While he was away at war, his rejected allies returned, and attacked the border cities,407 killed three thousand Jews, and took much plunder.
Meanwhile Amaziah and his army were reaping direct fruits of their obedience in Edom, where they gained a great victory, and followed it up by a massacre of ten thousand captives, whom they killed by throwing down from the top of a precipice. Yet, after all, Amaziah's victory over Edom was of small profit to him, for he was thereby seduced into idolatry. Amongst his other prisoners, he had brought away the gods of Edom; and instead of throwing them over a precipice, as a pious king should have done, “he set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them.”
Then Jehovah, in His anger, sent a prophet to demand, “Why hast thou sought after foreign gods, which have not delivered their own people out of thine hand?” According to current ideas outside of Israel, a nation might very reasonably seek after the gods of their conquerors. Such conquest could only be attributed to the superior power and grace of the gods of the victors: the gods of the defeated were vanquished along with their worshippers, and were obviously incompetent and unworthy of further confidence. But to act like Amaziah—to go out to battle in the name of Jehovah, directed and encouraged by His prophet, to conquer by the grace of the God of Israel, and then to desert Jehovah of hosts, the Giver of victory, for [pg 416] the paltry and discredited idols of the conquered Edomites—this was sheer madness. And yet as Greece enslaved her Roman conquerors, so the victor has often been won to the faith of the vanquished. The Church subdued the barbarians who had overwhelmed the empire, and the heathen Saxons adopted at last the religion of the conquered Britons. Henry IV. of France is scarcely a parallel to Amaziah: he went to mass that he might hold his sceptre with a firmer grasp, while the king of Judah merely adopted foreign idols in order to gratify his superstition and love of novelty.
Apparently Amaziah was at first inclined to discuss the question: he and the prophet talked together; but the king soon became irritated, and broke off the interview with abrupt discourtesy: “Have we made thee of the king's counsel? Forbear; why shouldest thou be smitten?” Prosperity seems to have been invariably fatal to the Jewish kings who began to reign well; the success that rewarded, at the same time destroyed their virtue. Before his victory Amaziah had been courteous and submissive to the messenger of Jehovah; now he defied Him and treated His prophet roughly. The latter disappeared, but not before he had declared the Divine condemnation of the stubborn king.
The rest of the history of Amaziah—his presumptuous war with Joash, king of Israel, his defeat and degradation, and his assassination—is taken verbatim from the book of Kings, with a few modifications and editorial notes by the chronicler to harmonise these sections with the rest of his narrative. For instance, in the book of Kings the account of the war with Joash begins somewhat abruptly: Amaziah sends his defiance before [pg 417] any reason has been given for his action. The chronicler inserts a phrase which connects his new paragraph very suggestively with the one that goes before. The former concluded with the king's taunt that the prophet was not of his counsel, to which the prophet replied that the king should be destroyed because he had not hearkened to the Divine counsel proffered to him. Then Amaziah “took advice”; i.e., he consulted those who were of his counsel, and the sequel showed their incompetence. The chronicler also explains that Amaziah's rash persistence in his challenge to Joash “was of God, that He might deliver them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought after the gods of Edom.” He also tells us that the name of the custodian of the sacred vessels of the Temple was Obed-edom. As the chronicler mentions five Levites of the name of Obed-edom, four of whom occur nowhere else, the name was probably common in some family still surviving in his own time. But, in view of the fondness of the Jews for significant etymology, it is probable that the name is recorded here because it was exceedingly appropriate. “The servant of Edom” suits the official who has to surrender his sacred charge to a conqueror because his own king had worshipped the gods of Edom. Lastly, an additional note explains that Amaziah's apostacy had promptly deprived him of the confidence and loyalty of his subjects; the conspiracy which led to his assassination was formed from the time that he turned away from following Jehovah, so that when he sent his proud challenge to Joash his authority was already undermined, and there were traitors in the army which he led against Israel. We are shown one of the means used by Jehovah to bring about his defeat.
Chapter VII. Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz.408 2 Chron. xxvi.-xxviii.
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 [pg 419] 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,”409 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 honour 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 neighbouring 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 [pg 420] 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 organised, 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 defence of Jerusalem; some, like the Roman catapulta, were for arrows, and others, like the ballista, to hurl [pg 421] huge stones. Though the Assyrian sculptures show us that battering-rams were freely employed by them against the walls of Jewish cities,410 and the ballista is said by Pliny to have been invented in Syria,411 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 ḥāshabh, to devise, three times in three consecutive words. The engines were “ḥishshebhōnôth maḥăshebheth ḥôshēbh”—“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 marvellously helped, till he was strong, and his name spread far abroad.” The neighbouring 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 [pg 422] 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.412 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, recognising 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 [pg 423] 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: he explains that the leper was buried, not in the royal sepulchre, 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 wrongdoing! How few men will tolerate the suggestion that their intentions are cruel, selfish, or dishonourable! 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 [pg 424] 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 favourable 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 [pg 425] 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 honour 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 date413 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 Ophel414, 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 [pg 426] afterwards we are not told. It has been suggested that the amounts mentioned were paid in three yearly instalments, 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.
|« Prev||Chapter VI. Joash and Amaziah. 2 Chron. xxiv.-xxv.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version