Today we read of only three kings, Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. All three were kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. We have read of Uzziah before, in 1 Kings 14:21 and 15:1-7 but here he was called Azariah. He ruled from about 792-740 B.C. Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and God blessed him both militarily and economically. His contemporary in the northern kingdom was Jeroboam II who ruled from about 793-753 B.C. His reign is summarized in just seven verses in 2 Kings 14:23-29. Uzziah came to the throne at a difficult time. His father Amaziah was a military failure and had been assassinated. It is quite possible that Uzziah had acted as a co-regent for many years. After his father’s death Uzziah promptly undertook an expedition against his father’s enemies. He was victorious against the Edomites, Philistines, Arabians, and Meunites. The Meunites were a desert tribe that lived in Edom, south and west of the Dead Sea. It didn’t take long for Uzziah to develop an international reputation as a capable king. He rebuilt the port city of Elath which was at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. What this suggests is that Uzziah chose to expand his territory to the south rather than fight against the army of the northern kingdom. Uzziah even modernized the military. He rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem using a technique that made them easier to defend. And he devoted a great deal of time to expanding Judah’s agricultural base. Despite all these accomplishments, and there were many good and wonderful things, Uzziah is best remembered for his disobedience. As he became more and more powerful his pride came to the forefront. He entered the temple fully intending to act as a priest. He went into the Holy place and was going to burn incense on the gold altar of incense, something only priests and Levites were allowed to do. The high priest Azariah and 80 other courageous priests of the Lord followed Uzziah into the Holy place. They confronted him, telling him it was not right for Uzziah to assume a role that was not his to assume. He had not been consecrated to burn incense and they urged him to leave. He was doing an evil thing. In fact, he had been unfaithful to the Lord and God would not honor him. Uzziah already had the incense censer in his hand. Uzziah was a descendant of David but there were still strict limits as to what his role in worship was. And he was angry at the priests. While he was raging at them the other priests saw leprosy break out on Uzziah’s forehead. Now the priests were in a BIG hurry to usher him out of the temple. Uzziah was in a hurry as well. The law had strict requirements regarding leprosy. It was a breach of God’s own holiness and a graphic symbol of defilement. He was isolated to his own house because of his uncleanness. He could not enter the temple, either as a worshiper or as the king. And worse yet, he could no longer rule. Control of both the temple and the state was passed on to his son Jotham. This was most likely a co-regency. As long as Uzziah lived, Jotham exercised power on his behalf. The prophet Isaiah was a witness to Uzziah’s last years but wrote very little about him.
Jotham’s 16-year reign began 11 years before Uzziah died. This suggests Uzziah had leprosy at least a decade before he died. Jotham’s reign was a mixed bag of events. He repaired the upper gate. This gate connected the temple of the Lord and the royal palace. He built cities and towers, but he also faced the Ammonites. At this time in Judah’s history the Assyrians and other potential enemies were gaining in power and the building of towers and fortresses was necessary. Uzziah had reduced the Ammonites to people paying him large tributes every year. Under Jotham they rebelled but Jotham defeated them and kept receiving tribute. Jotham became mighty because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God.
Jotham’s son Ahaz took the throne when he died, and Judah’s run of Godly kings came to an end. Ahaz began his rule when he was 20 and he reigned for 16 years. Ahaz walked in the ways of the kings of the northern kingdom. He took Judah back to worship of the Baals and the Asherah poles. Worse yet he burned incense in the Valley of Hinnom. This valley ran along the southern edge of the city of David. In those days it served primarily as a garbage dump. Fire burned there nearly all the time. But this valley was also the place of pagan worship including the sacrifice of infants and children in the fire. This was a common practice in the worship of the Canaanite god Molech. Pagan worship happened in Judah all over the place…inside and outside. Under trees and on hills, in valleys and anyplace the pagans chose to gather. Because of this detestable behavior God handed Judah over to the Syrians. Many were taken as hostages back to Damascus…the same Damascus we hear about on the news today. Next God turned the Judeans over to the northern tribe of Israel. The Israelites soundly defeated the tribe of Judah, killing nearly 120,000 in one day. They might have been valiant men, but they had forsaken the Lord their God. The Israelites also carried off many of the people of Judah but when they arrived back in Israel they were met by a man of God, a prophet named Obed, who warned them not to take their brothers and sisters hostage. It would infuriate the Lord and cause the Israelites big problems. So, some of the leaders of the northern kingdom clothed the hostages, fed them, and gave them drink and took them back to Judah, leaving them in Jericho. Next to attack were the Edomites. They too carried away captives. The relationship between Judah and Edom was in flux often. Usually, Judah had the upper hand but not at this time. This is because of their disobedience to the Lord. Now Edom was powerful enough to invade Judah and take prisoners. Judah appealed to Assyria for help. The lowland spoken of here was in the south near the Negev. Control of the plains here all led to valleys that led up to central Judah. Control of this area meant control of Judah itself. Because Ahaz understood this, he appealed to Assyria. Ahaz even took treasures from the store houses of the Lord and from the palace to give to the Assyrians, but they did not lend Ahaz a hand.
Ahaz’s idolatry and unfaithfulness to God led to God’s judgement. Rather than repent, Ahaz sought to appease the gods who had defeated him, the gods of Damascus. Not only was he being idolatrous, but he was also ignoring the fact that Damascus had fallen to Assyria! When we read this account in 2 Kings 16:10-18 we saw how Ahaz had seen an altar in Damascus and he took the dimensions and ordered one just like it to be built in Jerusalem. On this altar he offered regular burnt offerings and Ahaz used the great bronze altar of Solomon as a means of divination. He also took apart some of the bronze furnishings in the temple of the Lord. Ahaz had managed to corrupt every city in Judah with the worship of idols. And Ahaz made God angry. When Ahaz died, they buried him in the city of David but not in the tombs of the kings.
The people of Judah must have felt like yo-yos. They went from Uzziah and Jotham to Ahaz and next comes Ahaz’s son Hezekiah. He not only did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but he did all of it according to what his father David had done. We will read his story tomorrow.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W