The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah to reign.2 Kings 15
1. In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah to reign.
2. Sixteen years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned two and fifty years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem.
3. And he did that which was right [Azariah supported the legitimate worship, and lent his countenance to no foreign cultus] in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done;
4. Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places.
5. ¶ And the Lord smote [struck] the king [because of his usurpation of the priestly functions in the sanctuary], so that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house [sickhouse (or hospital) in a royal residence outside Jerusalem (Leviticus 13:46; chap. 2Kings 7:3), set apart for such cases]. And Jotham the king's son was over the house, judging the people of the land [as his father's representative].
6. And the rest of the acts of Azariah [2 Chronicles 25] and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
7. So Azariah slept with his fathers; and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David: and Jotham his son reigned in his stead.
8. ¶ In the thirty and eighth year of Azariah king of Judah did Zachariah the son of Jeroboam reign over Israel in Samaria six months.
9. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers [i.e., the dynasty of Jehu, of which he was the last member. Like all his predecessors, he upheld the illicit worship established by Jeroboam I.] had done: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
10. And Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him, and smote him before the people [in public], and slew him, and reigned in his stead.
11. And the rest of the acts of Zachariah, behold they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
12. This was the word of the Lord which he spake unto Jehu, saying, Thy sons shall sit on the throne of Israel unto the fourth generation. And so it came to pass.
13. ¶ Shallum the son of Jabesh began to reign in the nine and thirtieth year of Uzziah [Matthew 1:9, called Ozias] king of Judah; and he reigned a full month [Heb., a month of days] in Samaria.
14. For Menahem the son of Gadi [or a Gadite] went up from Tirzah [on the news of the murder of Zachariah, Menahem marched to the capital], and came to Samaria, and smote Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria, and slew him, and reigned in his stead.
15. And the rest of the acts of Shallum, and his conspiracy which he made, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
16. ¶ Then Menahem smote Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof [literally, her borders (or territories) (comp. Joshua 17:8)] from Tirzah: because they opened not to him [the gates were closed against him], therefore he smote it: and all the women [comp. chap. 2Kings 8:21; Hosea 13:16; Amos 1:13] therein that were with child he ripped up.
17. In the nine and thirtieth year of Azariah king of Judah began Menahem the son of Gadi to reign over Israel, and reigned ten years in Samaria.
18. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
19. And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land [occupied it]: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver [about £375,000], that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand.
20. And Menahem exacted [literally, caused to go out] the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels [the talent of silver was worth 3,000 shekels. The payment of 1,000 talents (3,000,000 shekels) therefore implies a total of 60,000 persons able to contribute] of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there [then (Psalm 14:5)] in the land.
21. ¶ And the rest of the acts of Menahem, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?
22. And Menahem slept with his fathers; and Pekahiah his son reigned in his stead.
23. ¶ In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah Pekahiah the son of Menahem began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned two years.
24. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
25. But Pekah the son of Remaliah, a captain of his, conspired against him, and smote him in Samaria, in the palace of the king's house [palace: 1Kings 16:18], with Argob and Arieh, and with him fifty men of the Gileadites: and he killed him, and reigned in his room [Josephus accounts for the short reign of Pekahiah by the statement that he imitated the cruelty of his father].
26. And the rest of the acts of Pekahiah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
27. ¶ In the two and fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years.
28. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
29. In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali [comp. 1Kings 15:20] and carried them captive to Assyria.
30. And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah.
31. And the rest of the acts of Pekah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
32. ¶ In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel began Jotham the son of Uzziah king of Judah to reign.
33. Five and twenty years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Jerusha, the daughter of Zadok.
34. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord: he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done.
35. ¶ Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places. He [it was who] built the higher gate of the house of the Lord.
36 ¶ Now the rest of the acts of Jotham [some of these are related in 2Chronicles 27:4-6], and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
37. In those days the Lord began to send against Judah Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah.
38. And Jotham slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father: and Ahaz his son reigned in his stead.
Israel's Wicked Kings
We have to wander for a little time in the cemetery of kings. Not only so, we have to visit the sepulchres of murdered kings. Verily the field we are about to traverse might be called Aceldama—the field of blood. Perhaps we do not always realise how sanguinary were the ages in which the early kings lived. We take up one story after another, but seldom bring them all into one focal view, and therefore we are the less shocked by the awful tragedies which took place in ancient days.
Here is a man called Azariah. In other places he is called Uzziah. His mother's name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem. The mothers of the kings of Judah are mentioned: the mothers of the kings of Israel are not referred to. Who cares to know anything about the ancestry of bad men? They were from a certain point in the history all bad. That we have seen in an earlier study. In Judah there were varieties of kingly character. Some of the sovereigns were really good, or to a large extent were excellent men; their mothers' names are given. We like to know something of the history of sweet flowers, beautiful things, charming lives. But who cares to know much about the ancestry of men who had no good qualities, who lived for themselves, who were base out and out, and who have left behind them records we are almost ashamed to read? Azariah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two and fifty years in Jerusalem, "and he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" (2Kings 15:3). Fifty-two years of right-doing! A record of that kind ought not to be passed over as if it were common writing. It is so easy to forget good living, patient action, constant discharge of domestic or public duty. It is easy to get up a great excitement about wars, revolutions, blood-shedding, on all possible occasions and for all possible reasons; but think of a man going steadily on for fifty-two years doing that which was right in the sight of the Lord,—at least in the main—keeping at it, praying every day for daily help; whether the times were exciting or tranquil, still doing his duty as best he could. A monument like that ought not to be rushed past, as if it were not worthy of heed and attention and grateful thought. But was it all good? We have said it was good "in the main," and we had a purpose in putting in that cautionary word. Still, it is something to be good in the main. Surely God who counteth up, and reckoneth with accurate arithmetic, all the days and policies of man, and who numbers the hairs of his head, will also conduct the same scrutiny when he looks over the life that has been lived. Woe unto us, and distress intolerable, if all the good effort, all the strenuous endeavour, all the sobbing and broken-hearted prayers shall go for nothing. But we are in God's hands. He who numbers up his jewels, and looks carefully into all things, let him be judge. Amen! What then about the reservation? The text explains:—"save that" (2Kings 15:4). Mark these excepting words—"save that." It would seem as if we could not get the devil's footprint quite rubbed out of the earth. It has been a good deal covered up, and very much has been done towards removing the impression, but there it is! We think that we are ourselves Christians, saved men,—at least beginning to be good; and this we account, and justly so, a miracle of grace, but every now and then there is a flash of unholy anger, a knock at the heart-door to a passion that wants to be let loose: then we are thrown back in infinite discouragement, saying, It is useless to attempt to climb the steep of duty, or force our way, even by the help of the triune God, into heavenly purity and peace. But presently we come upon a verse which seems to overturn all the argument which has been outlined. The king has been doing good fifty-two years; the high places which every king has allowed to stand have indeed not been removed; the people have sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places, but that has taken place in all the former histories: now we come upon this word of judgment, and it makes us wonder:—"And the Lord smote the king, so that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house" (2Kings 15:5). Who expected the narrative to take this course? We were prepared to journey with Azariah from height to height until he passed into the skies—a good knight—a holy, noble soldier, as well as king; and behold he is a leper white as snow. This is surely not the reward of good-doing? Verily this must be an anti-climax; at all events we cannot read this narrative as if it were a sequence; conscience stops and says—I cannot go any farther in any book that first tells me a man did that which was right in the sight of the Lord two-and-fifty years and then was smitten with the leprosy. Conscience annotates the Bible. Conscience cannot be beguiled by literal criticism, by far-fetched suggestions respecting etymology and grammar. Conscience boldly says, If the man did right he ought not to have been smitten with leprosy: there is something wanting in the record, and it must be found. That is right. Are we not referred in this very text to the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? Where there is a reference we must follow it. Adopting that rational course, we refer to the Second Book of Chronicles, and read:
"But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction; for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were valiant men: and they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests, the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar" (2Chronicles 26:16-19).
He was punished for trespass. He would not only be king, he would be supreme pointiff in Judah. Let us beware how we break through divinely-imposed limitations. Again and again we have had occasion to point out that we have only liberty to obey. How ambition hurts the soul, breaks in upon its piety, drives its holiness in the direction of carnality and selfishness! How it will not allow a man to sleep all night, but will awake him out of his deepest slumbers to hold before him some flashing vision of success and honour which never can be realised! How it will tempt his eyes and heart and his whole appetency by a mirage which fades as he approaches. Let us keep within our own limits; let us know ourselves to be but men: then shall we live quietly, honourably, and usefully, and there shall be no trace of leprosy in the closing days of our life. Trespassers, beware! "Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him." To keep down ambition is to begin at least to grow in true goodness.
The king is dead. He is sleeping with his fathers in the city of David. We come now upon a very rapid course of history. There are two short reigns, Zachariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months, "and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." Certainly! The moment you come upon that old line you come upon evil. How is it that out of some families and lineages you cannot get the devil? Zachariah had reigned only six months; but they were six exciting months: he served the devil with both hands, earnestly, during the whole time. If it was a short reign, he proposed that it should be a merry one; but it ended in blood. Then came Shallum, and he reigned a full month. He slew Zachariah, and afterwards was slain himself. A month's royalty! And what is any royalty but a month, if it is not a royalty of righteousness and patriotism and faithful discharge of high duty? No man is a sovereign in God's sight who is not the subject of his own people. Then a cruel man arose, a man with a fiend's heart; one of the Iscariots that make all the history red with shame. He reigned ten years over Israel. We cannot dwell upon his reign: ten years of the worst kind of evil-doing. Sometimes we come upon a kind of evil that seems at least to be streaked with occasional good; now and then the black becomes a kind of grey, and the grey seems to lighten a little in patches here and there; but in the case of Menahem there was nothing but the blackness of darkness of guilt. He bribed the king of Assyria with a thousand talents of silver, that is to say, he gave the king of Assyria £375,000, that he might confirm the kingdom in his hand. How did Menahem obtain the money? By the old way: "And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria;" so the king of Assyria having appropriated £375,000 of the money of Israel, stayed not in the land. What can you expect of a bad man? He will bribe, he will slay, he will break vows, he will enter into evil compacts and covenants of every kind, because he is bad in heart.
Then came his son Pekahiah, and reigned two years and reigned badly. But why dwell upon the evil reigns of the kings? Because there is a great doctrine underneath the history, an eternal doctrine. These are not anecdotes of ancient Israelitish history: these are all outgrowths of certain moral philosophies. We thought the kings would have been happy men. Why were they evil? Because they had a bad beginning. Always go back if you can to the origin of the appearances which excite your wonder and sometimes perplex both understanding and conscience. We still hear the moan of the old prophet when he said: The people of Israel say I am getting old, and they want a king like the other nations of the world. That is the explanation! Verily God gave them kings enough. He surfeited them with kings. This is a way very noticeable in the developments of providence. God gave them their desire, and sent leanness into their souls. It is a terrible thing to have some prayers answered! Israel desired a king; Israel was ambitious; Israel would not represent any longer an invisible and spiritual theocracy: but Israel would have a throne, a crown, a sceptre, and all the paraphernalia of royalty; and, behold, the prayer was answered. But look at the history. What is it? A river of corruption; a black, broad, deep river rolling on, and swallowing up so much of Israel's strength and beauty and nobleness. Let us chasten ourselves even in prayer. We are safe only in the utterance of one petition. All other petitions are subject to expansions, contractions, variations, which may be of a most pernicious character; but there is one petition which angel and old man and little child may all utter: Not my will, but thine, be done. When a man has prayed that prayer, he has done with prayer; the next we shall hear of him will be—praise: prayer has culminated, prayer has no other eloquence; it has used up all speech; it now must pass into the service of music
Then circumstances are no guarantee of character. What ought the men to be who have bread enough, who live in palaces, who lift up a finger and command multitudes of servants! How happy ought they to be whose fields are loaded with golden fruits of every name; whose word is law and whose smile is the only heaven their servile dependants ever hope to reach! They will be good men; their homes will be churches; they will never leave the altar; their mouths will be filled with praise. Is it so? The book of history is open. It is not for the theologian to pronounce morally upon the question; it is for the historian to testify as to facts. Let him stand up and tell us if a man's life consists in the abundance of the things which he possesses; let him name the man who was good because he had plenty, who was holy because he ruled the world. Great positions impose great responsibilities. How difficult it is to make the position and responsibility equivalent terms, the one exactly filling and covering the other! We envy men who are in great positions, but really we need not. They have corresponding burdens. Exactions are made upon them from which we are largely free. We cannot tell what secret pain they endure, what continual torture of mind, what anxiety of heart lest the issues of policy and government should be disastrous, and lest things meant for good, should be converted into poison and should minister to the reign of death. But whatever our position, it is one of influence. If we are not kings nominally we may be kings really; or if not kings, we may be under-rulers, inferior, but still influential servants. Every man should reckon upon it that even his word has an effect, and therefore should measure his words, and be careful how he deports himself: some child at least may be looking or listening who will receive an impression from him. Had the kings of Israel and Judah been good men, who can tell what happy influences might have issued from their thrones? Let prayer be made for all men; for kings and for all in authority, that they may be chastened, that they may be sober-minded, that they may be wise, patriotic, and resolute in all knowledge and goodness. When the most influential centres are healthy, pure, true, what may we not justly expect, but that all round the circumference there will palpitate effects corresponding to the quality of what is found at the centre?
Awful is the story—who can read it? Shallum conspired against Zachariah, and smote him, and reigned in his stead; Menahem smote Shallum, and slew him, and reigned in his stead; Pekah conspired against Pekahiah, and killed him, and reigned in his stead; Hoshea conspired against Pekah, and smote him, and slew him and reigned in his stead. And these were the kings of old time—the men for whom Israel panted in unholy prayer! Here is wickedness let loose. Here we see what wicked men would do if they had their own way: they will leave nothing standing—no corn in the field, no fruit in the orchard, no bread in the house. Everything goes down before wickedness. It is a blight, a curse, a hell in action, in locomotion, scorching, blasting wherever it goes. Why then do we trifle with great questions involving moral influence and moral issue? Why do we try to whitewash sin? Is it that we might see what sin really is that these men were permitted to live and to carry out all their riotousness according to their own evil will? Did the Lord look down from heaven and say, Let men see what wickedness is when it can work out its own career, when, apparently at least, all discipline is removed; let them see what it will do: will any home be inviolable; will any altar be protected from sacrilege; will any commandment be kept in its integrity? What wonder that once at least God shook the heavens in the form of fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest, that he might disinfect the earth that had been cursed with iniquity? How he has tried to save the world! He has sent his Son, the true King, to reign over us. Some of us have said, We will not have this man to reign over us, but will we have kings of our own making, or in very deed be our own kings. Why do we not learn from history? We blame men in political life for not learning from the records of the past; we taunt them, and justly, with their stupidity and denseness of mind and selfishness of heart; we say, Think what history has always done in contradiction of such foolish fancies and vain dreamings; and pointing them to historical records, we say, Why not be wise? If this appeal be permitted in other circles, it may be permitted a fortiori with ever accumulating force and strength in the Christian sanctuary. "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? And the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?" Read the judgment of God in the history of the world upon all men who are evil thinkers and evil doers. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The bad men's graves are amongst us: we ought to learn something from their very sepulchres. What is it we ought to be learning? That the way of transgressors is hard; that a man's thought being against the Lord is also against his fellow-men, and eventually against himself; and wondering at all these things, who would not say: What then is to be done? When that inquiry is propounded, the only answer comes from the gospel of the cross of Christ. God will have no tampering, no daubing of the wall with untempered mortar, no crying Peace, peace, where there is no peace: he will be fundamental, regenerative, vital; he will work a miracle:—a man shall be twice born!
Almighty God, thou art a Spirit. Thou art the King—eternal, immortal, invisible; the only wise God. Thou didst send thy Son to die for us, and rise again, and teach us thy will, and bid us welcome to the feast of thy love. We did scornfully intreat him. We stoned the prophets from the beginning, and thy Son we slew, and hanged on a tree. But we knew not what we did: who can tell what he is doing at any time, or follow out his action to all its issues? Who can follow his own words, and tell where they beat and throb, and where their influence ends? We know not all we do. We bless thee that our ignorance is herein our privilege. May it never deter us from zealous action; but fearlessly, lovingly, with full trust upon the living God, may we go forward to do our duty as we may be able to discharge it, knowing that we do not see all, we cannot measure all, we can follow ourselves but a very little way. We are multiplying ourselves a thousandfold every day so that at last each man may be found to be as a great multitude. This is the way of the Lord; this is the plan of the Most High; thou wilt carry it on, and none can stay thy hand. We will say, therefore, with our whole heart's love, The will of the Lord be done. But remembering how we multiply ourselves, may we be careful about ourselves lest we multiply that which is evil, and grieve the Spirit of the Most High. Give us understanding of truth, righteousness, and all goodness; and understanding these things may we follow after them, with ever-burning zeal, with religious hopefulness, with completeness of piety and devotion. We bless thee for all thy care of us. Thou dost nurse us as if we were little children: what other are we to thee, Eternal One, but children of yesterday—poor, frail, ignorant, dying, yet having on us the seal of divinity? Continue thy care, and train us up into all strength and nobleness, and make us perfect men in Christ Jesus. This is thy purpose concerning us, that we should be men in understanding in comprehension of truth, in loyalty to the throne of God. When our sorrows are many, when our eyes are blinded by tears, when the whole horizon is one frowning cloud, then let the Lord come to us, mighty to save. When heart and flesh do fail, then be thou the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever. Keep us in the enjoyment of a contented spirit. Make us strong in recollection, clear in reminiscence; may no line of gracious interposition fade from our memory, and having full knowledge of what God did yesterday we shall proceed into the mystery of tomorrow with a calm heart and with a rational intrepidity. The Lord hear us, multiply his comforts toward us, make us glad by the nearness of his presence, and when we reel and totter, or show signs of weakness, one touch of thine hand will bring back our strength and settle us in our love and in our purpose. Amen.