2 chronicles 25-26
The general character of Amaziah: He did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, worshipped the true God, kept the temple service a going, and countenanced religion in his kingdom; but he did not do it with a perfect heart (v. 2), that is, he was not a man of serious piety or devotion himself, nor had he any zeal for the exercises of religion. He was no enemy to it, but a cool and indifferent friend. Such is the character of too many in this Laodicean age: they do that which is good, but not with the heart, not with a perfect heart.
Behind the Mosaic law that individuals should be responsible in capital offences for their own sins (cf. Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29–31; Ezek. 18:1–20) was the principle that justice should always be limited (even in visiting the fathers’ sins on their descendants, God’s mercy to thousands far exceeds his judgment to the third and fourth generations; cf. Exod. 20:5–6). As in chapter 24, the influence of the teaching of individual responsibility in Ezekiel 18 is again evident.
III. An expedition of his against the Edomites, who, some time ago, had revolted from under the dominion of Judah, to which he attempted to reduce them. Observe,
1. The great preparation he made for this expedition. (1.) He mustered his own forces, and marshalled them (v. 5), and found Judah and Benjamin in all but 300,000 men that were fit for war, whereas, in Jehoshaphat’s time, fifty or sixty years before, they were four times as many. Sin weakens a people, diminishes them, dispirits them, and lessens their number and figure.
Amaziah may have been pressured to hire Israelite mercenaries (v. 6) because of the reduced number of conscripts. According to an unnamed prophet (man of God), however, this is not the way to fight in the Lord’s name (vv. 7–9), for two reasons. Firstly, the LORD is not with Israel (v. 7), who were still committed to idolatry (2 Kgs 13:11). Secondly, Amaziah’s chief weapon must be trust in God (cf. 14:11; 20:20–23; 32:6–8, 20–21), for God has the power to help or to overthrow. God’s power and help, which are a central theme in the ‘Yahweh war’ passages (2 Chr. 14:11; 20:6; 32:7), are especially given to weak and powerless people who have faith in God (14:11; 20:12; 32:8). Indeed, as the cross shows supremely, God’s power shows up particularly well in human weakness (cf. 1 Cor. 1:25; 2 Cor. 12:9–10; 13:4). The exact meaning of verse 8a is unclear. Most EVV assume a hypothetical attack by making slight changes to MT (if you go and fight, NIV; ‘if you make these people your allies’, REB, NEB), but the actual Hebrew is ironic, ‘go by yourself and act; be strong in battle’ (NRSV).
. His obedience to the command of God, which is upon record to his honour. He would rather lose his money, disoblige his allies, and dismiss a fourth part of his army just as they were going to take the field, than offend God: He separated the army of Ephraim, to go home again, v. 10. And they went home in great anger, taking it as a great affront thus to be made fools of, and to be cashiered as men not fit to be employed, and being perhaps disappointed of the advantages they promised themselves in spoil and plunder by joining with Judah against Edom. Men are apt to resent that which touches them in their profit or reputation, though it frees them from trouble.
5. His triumphs over the Edomites, v. 11, 12. He left dead upon the spot, in the field of battle, 10,000 men; 10,000 more he took prisoners, and barbarously killed them all by throwing them down some steep and craggy precipice. What provocation he had to exercise this cruelty towards them we are not told; but it was certainly very severe.
6. The mischief which the disbanded soldiers of Israel did to the cities of Judah, either in their return or soon after, v. 13. They were so enraged at being sent home that, if they might not go to share with Judah in the spoil of Edom, they would make a prey of Judah. Several cities that lay upon the borders they plundered, killing 3000 men that made resistance. But why should God suffer this to be done? Was it not in obedience to him that they were sent home, and yet shall the country thus suffer by it? Surely God’s way is in the sea! Did not the prophet say that God was not with the children of Ephraim, and yet they are suffered to prevail against Judah? Doubtless God intended hereby to chastise those cities of Judah for their idolatries, which were found most in those parts that lay next to Israel. The men of Israel had corrupted them, and now they were made a plague to them. Satan both tempts and torments.
The revolt of Amaziah from the God of Israel to the gods of the Edomites. Egregious folly! Ahaz worshipped the gods of those that had conquered him, for which he had some little colour, ch. 28:23. But to worship the gods of those whom he had conquered, who could not protect their own worshippers, was the greatest absurdity that could be. What did he see in the gods of the children of Seir that could tempt him to set them up for his gods and bow himself down before them? v. 14. If he had cast the idols down from the rock and broken them to pieces, instead of the prisoners, he would have manifested more of the piety as well as more of the pity of an Israelite; but perhaps for that barbarous inhumanity he was given up to this ridiculous idolatry.
Though Amaziah was simply following contemporary custom, his blatant idolatry made God angry (v. 15; cf. Jas 4:4) and invoked the sanctions of the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Chr. 7:19–22). By God’s grace, however, a second anonymous prophet invites Amaziah to think again (vv. 15–16; cf. vv. 7–8). His message was that the Edomite deities had manifestly failed the basic test of any god, to save (‘deliver’, NRSV, RSV) their own people, in contrast to Amaziah’s own experience of Yahweh (vv. 8–10). The prophet’s logic as well as his courage was incontrovertible. In fact, an appeal to God’s saving power is a regular biblical answer to attempts to reduce him to the level of ther deities (cf. 1 Kgs 18:20–39; Isa. 41:21–29; Acts 4:12). Two plays on words show how serious was Amaziah’s refusal to listen. Though the prophet stopped because the king said Stop! (the Heb. verb is repeated), the word of God continued to speak: God has determined to destroy you. Further, determined is related to the words ‘counsellor’, counsel (v. 16), and consulted (v. 17). Amaziah might reject the prophet’s counsel (v. 16) in favour of his own advisers (v. 17), but he could not avoid God’s counsel, as the following incident demonstrates.
1. This part of the story (which was as fully related 2 Ki. 14:8, etc., as it is here)—embracing the foolish challenge which Amaziah sent to Joash (v. 17), his haughty scornful answer to it (v. 18), with the friendly advice he gave him to sit still and know when he was well off, (v. 19),—his wilfully persisting in his challenge (v. 20, 21), the defeat that was given him (v. 22), and the calamity he brought upon himself and his city thereby (v. 23, 24),—verifies two of Solomon’s proverbs:—(1.) That a man’s pride will bring him low, Prov. 29:23. It goes before his destruction; not only procures it meritoriously, but is often the immediate occasion of it. He that exalteth himself shall be abased. (2.) That he that goes forth hastily to strive will probably not know what to do in the end thereof, when his neighbour has put him to shame, Prov. 25:8. He that is fond of contention may have enough of it sooner than he thinks of.
2. But there are two passages in this story which we had not before in the Kings. (1.) That Amaziah took advice before he challenged the king of Israel, v. 17. But of whom? Not of the prophet—he was not made of the king’s counsel; but of his statesmen that would flatter him and bid him go up and prosper. It is good to take advice, but then it must be of those that are fit to advise us. Those that will not take advice from the word of God, which would guide them aright, will justly be left to the bad advice of those that will counsel them to their destruction. Let those be made fools that will not be made wise. (2.) Amaziah’s imprudence is here made the punishment of his impiety (v. 20): It was of the Lord; he left him to himself to act thus foolishly, that he and his people might be delivered into the hands of their enemies, because they had forsaken God and sought after the gods of Edom. Those that will not persuaded to do well for their souls will justly be given up to their own counsels to do ill for themselves even in their outward affairs.
Jehoash responds with a colourful but insulting fable (vv. 18–19). He accuses Amaziah of being arrogant and proud (v. 19, NIV, cf. NRSV, RSV) and predicts that he will cause his own downfall (v. 19) as well as Judah’s. Some of the detail of verse 19 is obscured by uncertainty about the extent to which the text diverges from kings, but the overall meaning is clear. Again, however, Amaziah would not listen (cf. v. 6; cf. 24:19). This time, however, Chronicles adds (cf. 2 Kgs 14:11) that his deliberate deafness is (lit.) ‘from God’ (‘God’s doing’, v. 20, NRSV, REB, NEB, JB; cf. the identical phrase in 2 Chr. 10:15; 22:7), though that does not mean it was contrary to Amaziah’s intentions. God would therefore ‘hand them over’ (v. 20, NRSV)
We have here an account of two things concerning Uzziah:—
I. His piety. In this he was not very eminent or zealous; yet he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord. He kept up the pure worship of the true God as his father did, and was better than his father, inasmuch as we have no reason to think he ever worshipped idols as his father did, no, not in his latter days, when his heart was lifted up. It is said (v. 5), He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who, some think, was the son of the Zechariah whom his grandfather Joash slew. This Zechariah was one that had understanding in the visions of God, either the visions which he himself was favoured with or the visions of the preceding prophets. He was well versed in prophecy, and conversed much with the upper world, was an intelligent, devout, good man; and, it seems, had great influence with Uzziah. Happy are the great men who have such about them and are willing to be advised by them; but unhappy those who seek God only while they have such with them and have not a principle in themselves to bear them out to the end.
Here are several particular instances of his prosperity:—(1.) His success in his wars: God helped him (v. 7), and then he triumphed over the Philistines (those old enemies of God’s people), demolished the fortifications of their cities, and put garrisons of his own among them, v. 6. He obliged the Ammonites to pay him tribute, v. 8. He made all quiet about him, and kept them in awe. (2.) The greatness of his fame and reputation. His name was celebrated throughout all the neighbouring countries (v. 8) and it was a good name, a name for good things with God and good people. This is true fame, and makes a man truly honourable. (3.) His buildings. While he acted offensively abroad, he did not neglect the defence of his kingdom at home, but built towers in Jerusalem and fortified them, v. 9. Much of the wall of Jerusalem was in his father’s time broken down, particularly at the corner gate. But his best fortification of Jerusalem was his close adherence to the worship of God: if his father had not forsaken this the wall of Jerusalem would not have been broken down. While he fortified the city, he did not forget the country, but built towers in the desert too (v. 10), to protect the country people from the inroads of the plunderers, bands of whom sometimes alarmed them and plundered them, as ch. 21:16. (4.) His husbandry. He dealt much in cattle and corn, employed many hands, and got much wealth by his dealing; for he took a pleasure in it: he loved husbandry (v. 10), and probably did himself inspect his affairs in the country, which was no disparagement to him, but an advantage, as it encouraged industry among his subjects. It is an honour to the husbandman’s calling that one of the most illustrious princes of the house of David followed it and loved it. He was not one of those that delight in war, nor did he addict himself to sport and pleasure, but delighted in the innocent and quiet employments of the husbandman. (5.) His standing armies. He had, as it should seem, two military establishments.
Uzziah’s problem was that he was not content with the authority God had given him and wanted to add more priestly functions to his royal power. Absolute power, however, has no place in God’s kingdom, for at least two reasons. Effective biblical leadership is always aware that it is a gift rather than a possession, and it always involves some kind of partnership or team dimension. For these and other reasons, Jesus’ own leadership was chiefly characterized by obedient servanthood. Unfortunately, Uzziah’s prosperity made him blind as to how generous God had been, and, when he tried to take a leadership gift that was not his, even what he had was taken away (cf. Luke 19:25).
Uzziah’s offence was not that he fell foul of important cultic regulations but that like Uzzah before him (1 Chr. 13), he was unaware of the true nature of God’s holiness. In practice, he encroached on two aspects of worship which God had reserved to the Aaronic priests and the Levites—he entered the temple (v. 16) and attempted to make an offering at the incense altar (vv. 16b–19). The temple was for the priests and Levites. It is true that Solomon and Ahaz offered sacrifice at the temple, but they did so on altars outside in the courtyard (2 Chr. 6:12–13; 7:7; 2 Kgs 16:12–15), while young Joash was either kept in the living quarters in the surrounding rooms or was treated as an exception in view of the threat to his life (22:12; 23:11). To burn incense to the LORD on the inner altar was not right for Uzziah, only for the consecrated priests (v. 18; cf. Exod. 30:1–10; Num. 16:40; 18:1–7).
Uzziah’s action reflects three earlier Old Testament incidents, involving Aaron’s sons (Lev. 10:1–3), Korah (Num. 16:1–40) and Jeroboam I (1 Kgs 12:33–13:1). Aaron’s sons had offered incense in an unholy manner, while Korah and Jeroboam were laymen who attempted to act as priests by offering incense. Azariah’s opposition and that of the eighty courageous priests (v. 17) has analogies with the role played by Moses (Num. 16:4ff.) and the unnamed man of God in 1 Kings 13:1–3, especially as Azariah’s words are a kind of prophetic warning (v. 18; cf. 12:5; 24:20; 25:15–16). The link with Numbers 16 is especially close, however, and shows not only that Uzziah should have known better, but also that God does not stand idly by when his holiness is tampered with. Specific connections include Uzziah’s leprosy (vv. 19–23) with the plague on the people (Num. 16:46–50), the fact that the punishments broke out suddenly from the Lord (vv. 19–20; cf. Num. 16:35, 46), the need for hurry to prevent a greater spread of disease (v. 20; cf. Num. 16:46), and that God’s ‘glory’ (JB) had departed from the offenders (v. 18; cf. Num. 16:19, 42). In view of the latter parallel, the final phrase of verse 18 should be ‘God will not reveal his glory to you’ (Ackroyd, cf. JB, GNB) rather than ‘bring you no honour …’ (RSV, etc.).
Despite the seriousness of what Uzziah had done, God still does not act until Uzziah becomes ‘enraged’ (REB), an emphatic word occuring twice in verse 19. God’s righteous anger only breaks out against human rebellious anger. Uzziah’s punishment is described in terms of yet another earlier Scripture: compare (lit.) ‘And Azariah … turned to him and behold he was leprous’ with Numbers 12:10: ‘And Aaron turned towards Miriam, and behold, she was leprous’ (RSV, cf. also 2 Kgs 5:27). The disease is not leprosy as it is known today, but a general term for all kinds of skin diseases.