Three Kings
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Kings of Judah

Three Kings

II Chronicles  24-26

Lesson audio

Joash

If ever a king had a life to be made into a movie, it’s Joash. It takes the writer of Chronicles several chapters to tell the whole story, but we may put the first part briefly – how he came to power.

It seems that his father met an untimely end in battle. The queen, Athaliah, decided to take over the kingdom. She killed all the royal family – except Joash, who was hidden by the queen’s sister, and reigned for several years. About the time Joash was seven years old, his mentor made his move. Jehoiada, the High Priest, organized a revolt to oust Athaliah and place the young Joash on the throne.

Jehoiada was a man of skill, patience and cunning. He moved in the circles of palace intrigue, but always a man of God. By his work the rightful king was restored to the throne, and Athaliah slain. As we shall see, this did not yield the fruit intended.

Perhaps one reason for this is that Joash grew up as a pawn in a game of intrigue well above his head. A child of seven can hardly be expected to be anything else. The lack of a righteous father shows up here; worse, the inability to see what is right and work patiently for it is a key characteristic of the man. When his mentor dies, Joash rejects the God of Israel – being manipulated as a pawn by his advisors.

The good years

(See chapter 24)

The first recorded action of Joash as adult is his decision to restore the temple. Indeed, we are told that Joash did what was right – all the days of Jehoiada. It is a kingly decision; in its way it is highly symbolic of returning to the truth. Those who loved the Lord God must have been delighted – and in a minority.

It is a fact: the Levites who were in charge of this work didn’t really take it seriously. We see a growing young man take his mentor to task, kick him in the rear end and tell him to get those Levites moving. All seemed well; king and priest were together, and Judah could look forward to the blessings of God. The temple was restored. As long as Jehoiada was alive, the righteous had the upper hand.

The wicked years

We must take account of matters after Jehoiada’s death.

2 Chronicles 24:17-25 NASB (17) But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. (18) They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols; so wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt. (19) Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the LORD; though they testified against them, they would not listen. (20) Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, "Thus God has said, 'Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.'" (21) So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. (22) Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son. And as he died he said, "May the LORD see and avenge!" (23) Now it happened at the turn of the year that the army of the Arameans came up against him; and they came to Judah and Jerusalem, destroyed all the officials of the people from among the people, and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus. (24) Indeed the army of the Arameans came with a small number of men; yet the LORD delivered a very great army into their hands, because they had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers. Thus they executed judgment on Joash. (25) When they had departed from him (for they left him very sick), his own servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son of Jehoiada the priest, and murdered him on his bed. So he died, and they buried him in the city of David, but they did not bury him in the tombs of the kings.

Sometimes you get what you deserve. Joash certainly did.

  • If ever there was a king that owed a great deal to a priest, it was Joash. Jehoiada kept him alive, put him on the throne and raised him to the stature of a righteous king. He repaid that by slaughtering the man’s son. Even in the rough and ready politics of the time, this would be seen as marking the king as a man who could keep no loyalty.
  • To make the point, the Arameans invade – with a small army; likely a raiding band. But God put victory in their hands so that all might see the punishment of Joash. Today we would deny the providence of God – but it’s still there.[1]
  • Finally, Judea has had enough. The man is killed by his own officials, who in their turn are killed by the next king. A great beginning doesn’t even make it to the tombs of the kings.

Perhaps we might see some lessons for our time. Is it really a coincidence that the present hard times have fallen on a people who have turned their back on God?

Amaziah

Of all the fools that governed Judah, this one just might be the most foolish. Let’s here his story, part 1.

2 Chronicles 25:1-12 NASB (1) Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. (2) He did right in the sight of the LORD, yet not with a whole heart. (3) Now it came about as soon as the kingdom was firmly in his grasp, that he killed his servants who had slain his father the king. (4) However, he did not put their children to death, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, which the LORD commanded, saying, "Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin." (5) Moreover, Amaziah assembled Judah and appointed them according to their fathers' households under commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds throughout Judah and Benjamin; and he took a census of those from twenty years old and upward and found them to be 300,000 choice men, able to go to war and handle spear and shield. (6) He hired also 100,000 valiant warriors out of Israel for one hundred talents of silver. (7) But a man of God came to him saying, "O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the LORD is not with Israel nor with any of the sons of Ephraim. (8) "But if you do go, do it, be strong for the battle; yet God will bring you down before the enemy, for God has power to help and to bring down." (9) Amaziah said to the man of God, "But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the troops of Israel?" And the man of God answered, "The LORD has much more to give you than this." (10) Then Amaziah dismissed them, the troops which came to him from Ephraim, to go home; so their anger burned against Judah and they returned home in fierce anger. (11) Now Amaziah strengthened himself and led his people forth, and went to the Valley of Salt and struck down 10,000 of the sons of Seir. (12) The sons of Judah also captured 10,000 alive and brought them to the top of the cliff and threw them down from the top of the cliff, so that they were all dashed to pieces.

As we saw in the last lesson, there is always the temptation to proclaim that we have no choice but to make an alliance with evil. In this instance it’s worse: the alliance is made as a precaution. Just because you’re doing the right things like preparing the army does not mean that you are the ultimate arbiter of your fate.

Amaziah listens to the man of God, and heeds his advice. But only after offering a question: what about all that money I spent? Here we can see something which is with us today – our inability to see that what we spent yesterday does not need to govern what we do today.

Economists refer to this as a “sunk cost.” You’ve already spent the money; the question is what to do next. Just because you misused the money yesterday does not mean you must continue to be stupid today. “Don’t throw good money after bad.” If you’ve done something stupid, repent, apologize and move on. Don’t try to justify one bad move by making another. If Amaziah had died here, he’d have been on the list of good kings. But he didn’t.

The temptation of “the other guy”

We now come to a record moment of stupidity:

2 Chronicles 25:14-16 NASB (14) Now after Amaziah came from slaughtering the Edomites, he brought the gods of the sons of Seir, set them up as his gods, bowed down before them and burned incense to them. (15) Then the anger of the LORD burned against Amaziah, and He sent him a prophet who said to him, "Why have you sought the gods of the people who have not delivered their own people from your hand?" (16) As he was talking with him, the king said to him, "Have we appointed you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be struck down?" Then the prophet stopped and said, "I know that God has planned to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my counsel."

Why are people so stupid? You’ve just seen that the gods these people had did them no good whatsoever in battle – and you won because you trusted the Lord. So, the logical conclusion is – worship their gods? WHY?

Perhaps it is this: the other guy’s gods are different. They are more to our liking. These people were in the usual round of gods and goddesses of the time; infant sacrifice, temple prostitution and worse were common. But can we really condemn such behavior? We kill more than a million unborn babies a year; we teach our women that true feminism requires a different male each night; marriage is slavery, prostitution should be legalized. They used drugs to tell the future; we use them to make the present pleasant. Maybe temptation hasn’t really changed that much.

Amaziah’s pride

Perhaps it was simply this: Amaziah figured that it was his military brilliance that had brought the victory. Proud? His next move is to challenge the king of Israel to a war – let’s settle this kingdom thing once and for all.

His opponent, to his credit, sends him a formal, rather mystic warning; it was the style in those days. It is a rare move, and it should have served its purpose. A calculated self-interest would have been to let Amaziah attack; Israel is much larger than Judah.

The result is all too easy to predict. Amaziah loses; he is taken captive and forced to watch Israel pillage Jerusalem.[2] He lives another fifteen years, but his power is broken. His people eventually conspire against him (sound familiar?) and he runs – only to be caught and executed. God handed success to him, and he decided the credit all belonged to Amaziah. This is called “pride.”

Uzziah

The opening part of the reign of Uzziah is a familiar one among the good kings. Prosperity; fortification of the land; a growing reputation were all coming to Uzziah. Things were looking good. We may abstract two things from this era:

·         First, it is God who gives prosperity.

·         Second, he favors the diligent.

That can be confusing; after all, I worked hard – isn’t that why I’m prosperous? But this is no contradiction; it is God’s creation, and he makes it clear that the diligent, godly man prospers. It is not an absolute – but it’s the way to bet. Such is the nature of the providence of God; it’s not miraculous, but it is his will.

There comes a day, however, when all this prosperity drives Uzziah into a decision which he will greatly regret. His power is great; he decides to increase it.

2 Chronicles 26:16-23 NASB (16) But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. (17) Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the LORD, valiant men. (18) They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the LORD God." (19) But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the altar of incense. (20) Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the LORD had smitten him. (21) King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's house judging the people of the land. (22) Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first to last, the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, has written. (23) So Uzziah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the field of the grave which belonged to the kings, for they said, "He is a leper." And Jotham his son became king in his place.

Power corrupts, we are told. Uzziah may have reasoned that this was his right – after all, God favored him in all things. Why should he not now consolidate his authority both as political and spiritual leader? Surely greatness awaits? But at the back of this act is pride, and God does not let this act go unpunished.

The scene is a dramatic one. Uzziah prepares himself with an incense burner and heads for the temple. Azariah and the priests with him show the courage to confront the king.

There is an interesting point of theology here. Just why are these priests qualified to burn incense, and the king is not? Because God arbitrarily selected the descendants of Aaron to be priests. The king might well argue that he is more worthy than these men are – after all, look at his accomplishments! Look at the favor God has blessed him with! The answer is that no one is really worthy; but some have been assigned the job. And the king is not one of them.

There is a curious consistency over the millennia about the battle between church and state: it is almost always fought out over what appear to be trivial items. The argument may seem completely unimportant in our eyes, and perhaps in their own. The issue was not incense, but the command of God. Is it the king’s practical opinion, backed up by his power, that will prevail? Or the will of God?

The nature of pride

This instance is the only one recorded in the Bible of such a sin; it may indeed be the height of pride, excluding Satan himself. We can see in it the lust for power. The king had all the earthly power in reach; but lust always wants more. When that lust overcomes law, it is a sign of grave trouble for the nation.[3] Pride is Satan’s own sin.

Sometimes you can see this better with a picture. Rembrandt painted one of Uzziah, copied below. Look at the eyes of sadness boring out from the trappings of royalty:

 

Uzziah

The lust for power gave this man a life sentence in a hospital. There’s a lesson in that, somewhere.


[1] Is it just a coincidence that the last successful war of the United States was waged under the last president of the World War II generation? One wonders.

[2] Yet another opportunity for the Ark of the Covenant to disappear.

[3] President Obama’s grab of the census may be a recent example of this. Power is mine, I want more power.

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