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209

CHAPTER XIX

AZARIAH-UZZIAH (b.c. 783(?)-737)

JOTHAM (b.c. 737-735)

2 Kings xv. 1-7, 32-38

"This is vanity, and it is a sore sickness."—Eccles. vi. 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 Chronicler, 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;341341   Hence, perhaps, the expression that the people "took him." If Amaziah died at fifty-nine, he probably had other sons. but he was so distinctly the ablest, that, at the age of sixteen, he was chosen king by "all the people." His official210 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.342342   Compare the interchange of the names Azariel and Uzziel (Exod. vi. 18) in 1 Chron. vi. 2, 18. Azariah means "Jehovah hath helped," and Uzziah "Strength of Jehovah." It is just possible that his name was changed at his accession, as the chief priest also was named Azariah, and confusion might otherwise have arisen. 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 marvellously 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,343343   2 Chron. xxvi. 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."344344   Isa. xiv. 29. A mixed language arose in this district in consequence (Neh. xiii. 24; Zech. ix. 6). The word Palestine only applies strictly to the district of Philistia. Milton uses it, with his usual accuracy, in the description of Dagon as "That twice-battered god of Palestine."

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 Ammonite211 Emîrs to the position of tributaries, and to enforce from them rights of pasturage for his 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 armour, 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.345345   Uzziah's opposition to Assyria—of which there seems to be no doubt, for he must be the Azrijahu of the Eponym Canon—took place about 738, and was a coalition movement. But it gives rise to great chronological and other difficulties. As the solution of these is at present only conjectural, I refer to Schrader (E. Tr.), ii. 211-219. He is called Azrijahu Jahudai.

It is distressing to find that a king so good and so great ended his days in overwhelming and irretrievable212 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 Beit el Massakîn or "house of the unfortunate," the hospital or abode of lepers, outside the walls of Jerusalem.346346   2 Kings xv. 5 (2 Chron. xxvi. 21, "a house of sickness"). LXX., ἐν οἴκῳ ἀφφουσώθ; Vulg., in domo libera seorsim. Comp Lev. xiii. 46. Theodoret understands it that he was shut up privately in his own palace: ἔνδον ἐν θαλάμῳ ὑπ' οὐδένος ὁρώμενος. Symmachus, ἐγκεκλεισμένος. 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 fulfil 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.347347   His misfortune must have made a deep impression, and is possibly alluded to in Hos. iv. 4: "For thy people are as they that strive with the priest." 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's213 office by burning incense in the Temple.348348   The Chronicler attributes the good part of his reign to the influence of an unknown Zechariah, "who had understanding in the visions of God"; and says that when Zechariah died Uzziah altered for the worse. Solomon appears to have done the same without the least question of opposition; but now the times were changed, and Azariah, the high priest,349349   This high priest, Azariah, is only mentioned elsewhere in 2 Chron. xxvi. 17, 20. and eighty of his colleagues went in a body to prevent Uzziah, to rebuke him, and to order him out of the Holy Place.350350   Josephus says that he had put on a priestly robe, and that a great feast was going on, and that the earthquake (Amos i. 1; Zech. xiv. 5) happened at the moment, which broke the Temple roof, so that a sunbeam smote his head and produced the leprosy. We here see the growth of the Haggadah. 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 dishonouring disease. Surely no man was ever smitten down from the summits of splendour 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 Levitically214 scrupulous Chronicler adds that he was not laid in the actual sepulchre 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.351351   For instance, two verses earlier (2 Kings xv. 30) we read of the twentieth year of Jotham. 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 Gomorrha." There was abundance of lip-worship, but little sincerity; plentiful religionism, but no godliness. Superstition went215 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 Gomorrha 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 Gomorrha!
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!"352352   Isa. i. 10-17.

Of Jotham we hear nothing more. He died a natural216 death at an early age. If the years of his reign are counted from the time when his father's affliction devolved 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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