Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
that dangerous compromise of which Amaziah, his father, had been guilty, of permitting the high places to remain. But still he worshipped the true God. He sought God's help and guidance. He honored God's prophet. Moreover, he used his power well, not as a tyrant, but for the good of his people and for the prosperity and strengthening of the nation. And God prospered him in his efforts, as he will prosper all those who seek his help and blessing (2 Chronicles 26:5-15). But in an evil hour Uzziah (he is also called Azariah in this chapter) forgot that, though he was a king, he owed allegiance to a greater King. His prosperity turned his head. He forgot how much he owed to God. There was an old command of God, given after the rebellion of Korah and his sons, that none but the sons of Aaron - the priestly family - were to offer incense before the Lord. The obvious lesson was that special fitness, special holiness, was required of those who would stand as representatives of the people before God. But Uzziah disregards both the letter and the spirit of the command. He - poor weak mortal! - dares to defy the living God, and enters into the sanctuary to burn incense. It is another case of compromise and its consequences. He had been so accustomed to the violation of God's command in the matter of the high places, that now he thinks very little of this flagrant act of high-handed defiance. The priests remonstrated, but in vain. The proud king seizes the censer, and thrusts the priests aside with gestures of impatience and anger. But stay! What means that growing whiteness in his forehead? Ah! the symptoms are too well known. The hand of God is upon him. He is a leper. The censer falls from his hand. He can resist no longer. The priests thrust him forth from the holy place, and beyond the very precincts of the temple. Henceforth he is a king and yet an outcast, separated and secluded from the haunts and enjoyments of men (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
I. PROSPERITY AND ITS UPWARD PATH. For a long time the career of Uzziah was an upward path. His motto would seem to have been, as the motto of every young person, of every one of us, ought to be, "Excelsior!" There were three elements in his progress, three sources of his prosperity, three steps in his upward path. Along these three steps every one of us may fairly and with advantage follow Uzziah.
1. First of all, there was the fear of God. As a young man, unquestionably he had the fear of God before his eyes. We read of him in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord." This implies that he honored God's worship. He honored God's house. He honored God's Word, and sought guidance from the Divine Law. And what was the consequence? Just what the consequence of a God-fearing life will always be. "As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper." It is so still. God keeps his word. He has never yet broken that promise, "Them that honor me I will honor." This was the starting-point in Uzziah's prosperity, and, so long as he prospered, the secret of it was that he sought the Lord. Godliness is the best foundation of all true and lasting prosperity. Men like the late Samuel Morley, or the late Sir William McArthur, were not less successful because they were God-fearing men, and their business did not suffer because of the large amount of time and attention and money they devoted to religious work. To seek God's guidance in everything, God's blessing on every undertaking and every event of life - that is the secret of true prosperity and success.
2. The second step in Uzziah's prosperity was a good man's influence. We read in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God." While the Word of God and our own conscience are to be our chief guides, there are many details and plans of daily life in which we shall be greatly the better for the experience and advice of others. To what kind of men do you go for your advice or guidance? Go by all means to those who have best experience of the business or subject in question. But if you are to choose between the advice of a practical Christian man and that of a practical worldly man, surely for a Christian the Christian man's advice will carry most weight. Some one has well said, "You can never rise above the level of your companionship." Cultivate the society, seek the advice, look for the sympathy, of good men and good women.
3. The third step in Uzziah's prosperity was his diligence in business. Uzziah was no idler. He realized the responsibility of life. He realized the responsibilities of his high position. So we find him improving the defenses of Jerusalem and building towers; improving also the condition of the country and digging wells, so useful to the traveler and the husbandman in the East; and, as it was a time of warfare, providing suitable equipments for his soldiers, and encouraging new inventions of military engines and weapons. No success is won without hard work. Whatsoever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with our might. By these three methods, then, Uzziah attained to great prosperity. "He was marvelously helped, till he was strong," are the words of the writer in 2 Chronicles. His name and fame became well known. If you want to attain to prosperity and success in your business - and it is a desirable thing to see wealth, honorably earned and wisely spent, in the hands of Christian men - then, with the strong arm of a vigorous resolution, cut these three steps in your upward path, and plant your feet firmly in them - the fear of God, the influence of good men, and diligence in business. This is prosperity and its upward path. But we have reached the summit of Uzziah's career. Hitherto all has been progress upward. Hitherto all has been bright as the path of the just. But the scene changes. The shadows gather. The footsteps that pointed upwards now are turned downwards. We must look now at the other side of the picture, at -
II. PROSPERITY AND ITS DOWNWARD PATH. We may gain prosperity by rightful means, but sometimes the difficulty is to keep our prosperity and our religion at the same time. Riches bring with them their own temptations and dangers. We see in Uzziah's case the way to prosperity, which we should follow; we also see the dangers of prosperity, which we should avoid.
1. Prosperity leads to pride. We read of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles: "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction." He became filled up with ideas of his own importance, and, instead of giving God the glory, reflected with complacency on all the great deeds that he had done, and all the benefits he had conferred upon the nation. When he was younger, and in the beginning of his career, he was humbler. He was very glad then to seek God's guidance, to have the help and influence of Zechariah. But now he has got beyond all that. His whole character is completely changed.
"For lowliness is young ambition's ladder, 2. Prosperity leads to presumption. It is a step further than pride. Uzziah's pride was bad enough, but when it led him to trample on the Law of God and to violate the sacredness of God's holy place, his presumption was a bad example to others. Yet how many there are whose prosperity or whose wealth leads them to violate the laws of God! They think anything becomes them. They have become inflated with success, and the Law of God is a very small matter indeed in their eyes. Look at Claverhouse, inflated with his triumphs over the Scottish Covenanters, as with his dragoons he surrounded the cottage of John Brown of Priesthill. Touched by the prayers of John Brown, and the sight of his wife and helpless children gathered round him, the dragoons, with moistened eyes, refused to do their deadly work. Snatching a pistol from his belt, Claverhouse himself shot the good man through the head. Turning to the wife whom he had widowed, he said, "What do you think of your husband now?" "I always thought much of him, sir," replied the brave woman; "but never so much as I do this day. But how are you to answer for this morning's work? To men," he replied, "I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take him in my own hands." Four years afterwards, in the Pass of Killiecrankie, Claverhouse died by an unknown hand. How many think as Claverhouse did! Because they have rank, or wealth, or power, there- fore they imagine they can trample on God's laws, or trample on morality. Napoleon the Great thought that when he divorced his innocent and faithful wife; and be afterwards testified that that false and guilty step was the beginning of his downfall and disgrace. Because, by their wealth or their position, men think they can defy public opinion, therefore they imagine they can also disregard the commands of God. But it is a great mistake. No prosperity, no riches, no position in life, can ever lift us above the Law of God. "In the corrupted currents of this world,
2. Prosperity leads to presumption. It is a step further than pride. Uzziah's pride was bad enough, but when it led him to trample on the Law of God and to violate the sacredness of God's holy place, his presumption was a bad example to others. Yet how many there are whose prosperity or whose wealth leads them to violate the laws of God! They think anything becomes them. They have become inflated with success, and the Law of God is a very small matter indeed in their eyes. Look at Claverhouse, inflated with his triumphs over the Scottish Covenanters, as with his dragoons he surrounded the cottage of John Brown of Priesthill. Touched by the prayers of John Brown, and the sight of his wife and helpless children gathered round him, the dragoons, with moistened eyes, refused to do their deadly work. Snatching a pistol from his belt, Claverhouse himself shot the good man through the head. Turning to the wife whom he had widowed, he said, "What do you think of your husband now?" "I always thought much of him, sir," replied the brave woman; "but never so much as I do this day. But how are you to answer for this morning's work? To men," he replied, "I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take him in my own hands." Four years afterwards, in the Pass of Killiecrankie, Claverhouse died by an unknown hand. How many think as Claverhouse did! Because they have rank, or wealth, or power, there- fore they imagine they can trample on God's laws, or trample on morality. Napoleon the Great thought that when he divorced his innocent and faithful wife; and be afterwards testified that that false and guilty step was the beginning of his downfall and disgrace. Because, by their wealth or their position, men think they can defy public opinion, therefore they imagine they can also disregard the commands of God. But it is a great mistake. No prosperity, no riches, no position in life, can ever lift us above the Law of God.
"In the corrupted currents of this world,
Hosea 13:2). And truly, with a certain number of exceptions here and there through the ages, kings have proved malific scourges of the race. In this chapter there are mentioned no less than seven of those men who are called kings, but who, instead of having one grain of moral royalty in their souls, were contemptible serfs to the last degree, slaves to their passions of sensuality and greed. How many conventional kings in all ages are moral paupers and vassals of Satan! Glance for a moment at each of the kings before us. Here is Azariah, elsewhere called Uzziah, who was the son and successor of Amaziah. Here is Zachariah, the son and successor of Jeroboam II. King of Israel, who reigned only six months, and then fell by the hand of Shallum. Here is Shallum, the fifteenth King of Israel, and the murderer of Zachariah, and who in his turn was murdered. Here is Menahem, the son of Gadi, who, having slain Shallum, reigned in his stead ten years - a reign characterized by ruthless cruelty and tyrannic oppression. Here is Pekahiah, the son and successor of Menahem, who reigned two years over Israel, and then was assassinated by Pekah. Here is Pekah, who was a general of the Israelitish army, and assassinated King Pekahiah in his palace, and usurped the government, reigning, according to the existing text, twenty years. Here is Jotham, the son and successor of Uzziah, the eleventh King of Judah, who reigned for sixteen years. He, perhaps, was the least wicked of all these princes. The whole chapter reminds us of several things worth note.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF RETRIBUTION IN THIS LIFE. Here we discover retribution in the leprosy of Azariah, and in the fate of the other kings. Of Azariah it is said, "The Lord smote the king, so that be was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house" Of all physical afflictions, perhaps that of leprosy is the most painful and revolting. It eats out the life of a man and dooms him to solitude. Disease strikes princes as well as paupers. Then see how the other wicked doers fared. The murderer is murdered, the slayer is slain; Shallum strikes down Zachariah; Menahem strikes down Shallum; and Pul, the King of Assyria, strikes Menahem with a terrible blow of humiliation and oppression; Pekah smites Pekahiah, and reigns twenty years when he is himself struck down by the blow of an assassin. Truly, even in this life," with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again." Though retribution here may not be complete and adequate, still it is at work everywhere in human society: It comes as a pledge and a prophecy of that realm beyond the grave, where every man shall be dealt with according to his works.
II. THE MIGHTINESS OF RELIGIOUS ERROR. In this chapter there is the record of long periods and of great changes. Battles are fought, revolutions are effected, monarch succeeds monarch, and the years come and go; but one thing remains, that is, idolatry" The high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places" (vers. 4 and 34). Among the many evil tendencies of man there is none so mighty and influential as the pseudo-religious. Two facts will account for this.
1. The strength of the religious element in man. Burke and others of the wisest of the race have designated man as a religious animal. Religion with man is not a faculty, but the substratum in which all the faculties inhere; it is the core and the root of his nature. Hence, wherever man is found, if he has no home, he has a shrine; if he has no friend, he has a god.
2. The might of selfishness in man. What man needs most presents the greatest motives to human avarice and ambition. Hence the creation of bodies of priests to bolster up false religions, and derive position and wealth from them. Corruptio optimi pessima. It is most sad when men seek to" make a gain of godliness."
III. THE CRAVEN-HEARTEDNESS OF ENSLAVED PEOPLES. Had the peoples of Judah and Israel been really men worthy of their humanity, would they have tolerated for a day such monsters as we have in this chapter? The existence of tyrants is the fault of the people. - D.T.
I. AZARIAH'S REIGN.
1. His righteous rule. Azariah began to reign when only sixteen years of age; he reigned long - fifty-two years, and during the greater part of his reign he signalized himself as a king that did right. Save that the high places were unremoved, the praise given to him is unqualified. He was an able, energetic ruler, much more so than either his father or grandfather. The virtue of his reign is traced in Chronicles to the influence of a good man, Zechariah, "who had understanding in the visions of God" (2 Chronicles 26:5) - another example of the power for good exercised by prophets in the political history of Judah (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:2, 17; 2 Chronicles 25:7).
2. His prosperity. On this the Book of Chronicles dilates. So long as Azariah (or Uzziah) sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. Everything he touched went well with him. It was long since Judah had so enlightened, so enterprising, and so able a king. He subjugated the Philistines, the Arabians of Gur-baal, and the Ammonites; he greatly strengthened the defenses of Jerusalem; he developed the resources of the country, and fostered agriculture; he brought the organization and equipment of the army to a high pitch of perfection. As it is stated, "His name spread far abroad; for he was marvelously helped, tin he was strong" (2 Chronicles 26:15). It was as if God wished, by the abundance of his blessings, to teach Azariah and his people that assuredly their true advantage lay in his service. The previous reigns had given examples of this; but here was a new proof, still more undeniable than the preceding. Yet it was ineffectual to restrain from sin.
II. AZARIAH'S LEPROSY.
1. The worm at the root. Azariah had scarcely reached the acme of his power, when, as in the case of his predecessors, declension began. Unwarned by the past, he allowed his heart to grow proud and haughty. He was head of the state; why should he not also be bead of the Church? His prophetic adviser was by this time removed, and he was left to the bent of his own will. In his arrogance, he insisted on going into the holy place of the temple to burn incense to the Lord. It was there his doom fell upon him. We are again reminded of the subtle temptations that lie in prosperity. When men wax fat, they kick; and their hearts are apt to be lifted up to their destruction (Deuteronomy 8:11-14; Deuteronomy 32:15). Once let pride enter the heart, and deterioration is rapid. Its beginnings may be unseen, but it by-and-by reveals itself in. overt acts.
2. The stroke from heaven. It was Heaven's laws that Azariah was defying, and it was from heaven the blow came which struck his pride low. While yet he stood at God's altar, offering unhallowed incense, the leprous spot began to burn in his forehead, and in presence of the priests, whose protestations he despised, he felt himself a leper. The priests, in horror, thrust him out from the holy place. But it needed not their violence: "Yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him" (2 Chronicles 26:20). How quickly God can bring the haughtiness of men low! He is a jealous God, and what touches the honor of his sanctuary and worship is of special concern to him. We are warned against will-worship in God's service (Colossians 2:23; cf. Numbers 10:1, 2). The leprosy was but the outward token of the invisible sin of pride; yet how little shame the reality of sin occasions, as compared with that caused by an outward symbol of it like this! We may believe that in the end inward character will somehow stamp itself upon the outward appearance, and then men will see sin in its real loathsomeness.
3. Jotham as vicegerent. We are told that from this time Azariah took no more part in public business. He dwelt apart "in a several house - a living evidence of the weakness of man in contending with God, of the dishonor which is the Nemesis of presumptuous sin, of the isolation-which they bring upon themselves who refuse the bounds which God's Law prescribes. During this period, Jotham, the king's son, acted as his deputy. It would appear, from comparison with the Israelitish reigns, and with Assyrian chronology, that Jotham's sixteen regal years include this period when "he was over the house, judging the people of the land." Sin is a living death. Azariah was king in name, but morally, physically, legally, he was dead; for leprosy in the body is simply a process of decay and death. When, in fact, he did die, he was buried in Jerusalem, but in a "several" tomb, as during life he had dwelt in a "several" house (2 Chronicles 26:23). - J.O.
I. THE FALL OF JEHU'S HOUSE.
1. The shadow of doom. With the accession of Zachariah, Jeroboam's son, the fourth generation of John's dynasty ascended the throne The shadow of doom may thus be said to have rested On this ill-fated king. A prophet had Spoken it to the founder of the house, "Thy sons shall sit on the throne of Israel unto the fourth generation." That word had its bright side of reward, but it had also its dark side of penalty, and it is this, which becomes prominent as the predicted term nears its close. Yet, as we can now also see, there is no fate in the matter. The reason why John's sons were only to sit on the throne till the fourth generation lay in their own character and actions. God's decrees do not work against, but in harmony with, the existing nature of things, and the established connection of causes and effects. John's house was about to fall
(1) because John's sons had been ungodly. None of them had sought God's glory or taken any pains to promote godliness in the nation. On the contrary, they had continued sowing the wind of disobedience to God's will, and the nation was now to reap the whirlwind.
(2) Under the rule of these kings, irreligion and immorality had spread fast, and struck their roots deep and wide in the kingdom. This will undermine any dynasty, will overthrow any empire. Rulers make a great mistake when they fix attention solely on external prosperity. If the foundations are rotten, the structure will sooner or later inevitably come down.
(3) Zachariah himself was a feeble king. This is implied even in the brief notice we have of him. It may be he who is referred to by Hosea, "In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine," etc. (Hosea 7:5). In any case, we know that he was not only weak, but wicked - "He did evil in the sight of the Lord."
2. The prophetic word fulfilled. A brief six months of the throne was all that was allowed to Zachariah. He seems to have been held in contempt by the people. His feeble character would appear the more feeble in contrast with that of his energetic and victorious father. We have a similar contrast in English history between Richard Cromwell and his father, Oliver. But Zachariah was more than feeble, he was worthless. Therefore, when the conspirator Shallum smote the king in the light of public day, "before the people," no hand seems to have been raised in his defense. He perished, and the house of Jehu was extinguished with him. Sinners do not live out half their days (Psalm 55:23). In due time the words of God are all fulfilled.
II. THE REIGN OF MENAHEM. We may pass by the brief reign of Shallum, which lasted only a month, and of which no events are recorded. He was slain by Menahem, the son of Gadi, illustrating the truth of which this chapter affords other exemplifications, that they who take the sword shall perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52). In respect of Menahem, we notice:
1. His violent usurpation. He too possessed himself of the throne by violent means. He smote Shallum in Samaria, as Shallum had, a few weeks before, smitten Zachariah. The effect of these revolutions on the morals of the people and the administration of law may be imagined. What respect could be felt for royalty established by such methods? Shallum, indeed, was a murderer, but Menahem was no better. Neither by sanction of God nor by election of the people, but solely by brute force, did he set himself upon the throne. His rule was thus, in its inception and essence, a tyranny. To this had Israel come by rejecting their true Ruler - God. "They have set up kings," said God, "but not by me" (Hosea 8:4). He who rejects God as his Sovereign must bear a heavier yoke.
2. His sickening cruelties. The fact that Menahem kept the throne for ten years shows him to have been a man of no small natural ability. But his disposition was savagely cruel. Not only did ha smite Shallum - a deed which might be pardoned - but in his war with Tiphsah he was guilty of brutal atrocities on those who refused to submit to him (cf. ver. 16). In this he showed himself a man of a fierce and unscrupulous character. The people had become fierce, godless, and violent; and God gave them a king after their own image.
3. His league with Assyria. This is not the first contact of Israel with Assyria, but it is the first mention of that contact in the sacred history, The King of Assyria, here named Pul, came against the land, evidently with hostile intent; but Menahem, by the payment of a huge tribute, bought him off, and secured his sanction to his occupancy of the throne. (On the identification of Pul, see the Exposition.) Israel now came under a foreign yoke, and "sorrowed," as Hosea says, "for the burden of the King of princes" (Hosea 8:10). Sin, which is an effort after emancipation from the Law and authority of God, ends in the sinner being reduced to miserable bondage (Luke 15:15, 16; John 8:34).
4. His oppression of the people. To raise the money for Pul, Menahem was under the necessity of exacting large sums from the men of wealth in the land. From each, we are told, he took fifty shekels of silver. Much of this money had been wrung from the poor, and now it was taken from the rich. In the end, it was probably upon the poor that the burden would come back. Thus the land groaned under tyranny, foreign oppression, robbery, and grinding of class by class. The end was not quite yet, but it was fast approaching. We need not doubt that Menahem's oppressive reign was hateful to the people. He escaped, however, the penalty of his misdeeds in his own person, and "slept with his fathers." It was his son Pekahiah who reaped the harvest he had sown.
III. THE REIGN OF PEKAH. Pekahiah's reign of two years, like that of Shallum, may be passed over. A stronger hand was needed to hold together the warring elements in this distracted kingdom, and such a hand was that of Pekah, the son of Remaliah.
1. Overthrow of the house of Menahem. Menahem had succeeded in handing down the throne to his son, but the latter could not keep it. The bold and ambitious Pekah, one of Pekahiah's captains, having secured the co-operation of fifty Gileadites, smote the king in his palace, and his attendants with him. Thus another violent revolution took place in Israel. It is stated that Pekah kept the throne for twenty years, but there is great difficulty at this point in adjusting the chronology. It seems impossible, on the side of Judah, to shorten the reign of Ahaz, having regard to his own age, and that of his son Hezekiah, at their respective accessions. To bring the Jewish and Assyrian chronologies into accord, we must apparently either
(1) shorten the reign of Pekah by about ten years, and bring down the reign of Ahaz to a date considerably below that usually given, which involves also the abandonment of the biblical date for the commencement of the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1), and of the synchronisms of this period generally; or
(2) suppose some break or hiatus of twenty years or so in the Assyrian lists at the epoch of the accession of Tiglath-pileser, i.e. the commencement of the new Assyrian empire. This view has its difficulties, but is not impossible. Pekah's reign was as evil as that of his predecessors.
2. Invasions of Tiglath-pileser. During this reign began those invasions of the Assyrians, and deportations of the population, which culminated in the fall of Samaria and carrying captive of the whole people, some years later. This expedition, of which mention is made in the Assyrian inscriptions, took place towards the end of Pekah's period of rule, and was a sequel to the events related in 2 Kings 16:5-9. Pekah, in alliance with Rezia of Damascus, had made a plot to depose Ahaz of Judah, and to set a creature of his own upon the throne (Isaiah 7:1-6). To this proposed attack we owe Isaiah's magnificent prophecy of the Child Immanuel.
3. Pekah's death. This intriguing monarch also, as he had climbed to the throne by assassination, fell a victim to assassination. He was slain by Hoshea, the son of Elah, who succeeded him as the last King of Israel. - J.O.
I. JUDAH WELL GOVERNED.
1. Rule in the fear of God. Jotham proved an excellent ruler. He took warning from his father's example, and "prepared his ways before the Lord his God" (2 Chronicles 27:6). His reign, indeed, was a brief one compared with his father's, and, had time been given, he might have backslidden as had his predecessors. But, so far as it went, his conduct was blameless, except that the high places were still unremoved. If we assume that Jotham's years of rule are reckoned from the time when he took his father's place in the public administration, he cannot have reigned alone for more than five or six years.
2. Religion honored. It is told of him, negatively, that he did not, like his father, enter into the temple of the Lord (2 Chronicles 27:2), and positively, that "he built the higher gate of the house of the Lord." Whereas a wicked ruler like Athaliah broke down the temple, this good king set himself to adorn and strengthen it. In this he showed a laudable zeal for God's honor.
3. The kingdom strengthened. Jotham strengthened the kingdom of Judah in many other ways - by just administration, by extensive works of building, by subjugation of enemies, etc. (2 Chronicles 27:3-6). If the annals of this reign, "written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah," could be recovered, they would show Jotham to be one of the best kings Judah ever had - a worthy son of a very able father. Such rulers are a blessing to a country. Their loss is to be deplored, for there is no guarantee that their successors will be like them. From Jotham to Ahaz the descent is great.
II. JUDAH THREATENED.
1. A discordant note. It is said in Chronicles that, notwithstanding Jotham's enlightened and righteous government, "the people did yet corruptly" (2 Chronicles 27:2). It is not easy to purge out evil leaven when once it has got into a community; and the worship of the high places gave opportunity for evil practices to develop themselves away from the center, which was more under the king's eye. The pictures Isaiah now begins to draw for us show that the corruption was not slight.
2. Threatened invasion. To this inward corruption of the people may be attributed the chastisements which God now saw fit to send on Judah. In Jotham's reign they but begin, but in the reign of Ahaz they develop to considerable proportions. In the text we are simply told, "In those days the Lord began to send against Judah Rezin the King of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah." These two kings, as we shall subsequently see, had designs upon the throne of Judah. Chastisement is the more deserved when great privileges are given and fail to be improved. - J.O.