The People of the Bible—Part XVI
II Kings 14 – 20; II Chronicles 25 – 32; Isaiah 36 – 39

Kings of Judah and Israel
Part 2

OUR last part ended with a brief account of the reign of King Joash or Jehoash, of Judah, who became the titular head of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah at the tender age of seven. He was succeeded by his son, Amaziah, who began his reign when he was twenty-five years old. A brief summary of his reign is given in II Chronicles 25:2, which reads, “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.” The record in II Kings 14:3 adds the explanation, “yet not like David his father.” Instead, “He did according to all things as Joash his father did.”

After establishing himself as king, Amaziah slew all those who had conspired against and murdered his father, Joash. He did not slay their children, for the Law of the Lord said, “The father shall not die for the children, neither shall the children die for the fathers, but every man shall die for his own sin.”—II Chron. 25:4

The Law Covenant into which God entered with the Jewish nation was typical of the New Covenant. Concerning the time when that covenant will be operative the Prophet Jeremiah wrote: “In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.”—Jer. 31:29-34

Amaziah planned war on the Edomites and hired one hundred thousand men of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel to augment his own army. A servant of the Lord warned him against using these, explaining that the Lord was not with the Israelites. He explained to Amaziah that if he used the men of Israel he would be defeated, but if he went to battle against the Edomites without them the Lord would more than make up his need and he would be victorious. Amaziah followed the instructions of the “man of God” and was victorious. However, he “brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods. … Wherefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Amaziah.”—II Chron. 25:5-15

Flushed with his success, he challenged the king of Israel to battle but was completely defeated, and he was taken to Jerusalem as a prisoner by King Joash, of Israel. In the twenty-ninth year of his reign he was murdered at Lachish. He had gone there from Jerusalem for safety.—II Chron. 25:13-28

King Uzziah

Uzziah, sixteen-year-old son of Amaziah, was chosen to succeed his father. He reigned fifty-two years, and during most of this time he was faithful to the Lord, and Judah prospered. He was an industrious king. “He loved husbandry,” the record states. (II Chron. 26:9,10) But he was also a militarist and raised a huge army of more than three hundred thousand men, well trained and well officered. It was one of the first mechanized armies.—vss. 11-15

Uzziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, “according to all that his father Amaziah did.” (vs. 4) This is but a partial compliment. Amaziah served the Lord in the beginning of his reign but was unfaithful at the end. This was also the case with Uzziah. The record states that “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.”—vs. 16

Burning incense on the temple altar was the prerogative of the priests of Israel. No one else had the right to do this, not even the king. Nor did Uzziah undertake this ignorantly, for the priest, Azariah, “went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord.” They reasoned with him, saying, “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.”—vss. 17,18

They asked Uzziah to “go out of the sanctuary,” but he refused and became angry. Suddenly he was smitten with leprosy, from which he was never healed. He died a leper. (vss. 18-21) Thus again we have an example of how pride can develop in the heart and, even after a lifetime of faithfulness, cause one to transgress against the Lord. How timely is the admonition, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”—Prov. 4:23

During Uzziah’s reign a great earthquake occurred in Judah.—Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5

Jotham was the next king of Judah. He was somewhat on a par with his father, Uzziah, so far as his faithfulness to the Lord was concerned. The record is, “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah did: howbeit he entered not into the temple of the Lord. And the people did yet corruptly.”—II Chron. 27:2

Apparently he accepted things as he found them, not bothering to institute needed reforms in the religious life of Judah. However, “he prepared his ways before the Lord his God.”—vs. 6

After Jotham came Ahaz, who was a wicked king. “He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.”—II Chron. 28:2,3

This valley of the son of Hinnom is in the Greek language called Gehenna, meaning land of Hinnom. It is one of the words in the New Testament which is translated “hell.” The fire god Molech was worshiped in the valley of Hinnom. According to Jewish tradition, the image of Molech was of brass, hollow within. The tradition reads: “His face was that of a calf, and his hands stretched forth like a man who opens his hands to receive [something] of his neighbor. And they kindled it with fire, and the priests took the babe and put it into the hands of Molech, and the babe gave up the ghost.”

A later, God-fearing king of Judah, Josiah, terminated these abominations in the valley of Hinnom by polluting the place, rendering it ceremoniously unclean by spreading over it human bones and other corruptions. (II Kings 23:10,13,14; II Chron. 34:4-7) It became the common cesspool of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus used it as a symbol of everlasting destruction of incorrigible sinners, those not worthy of everlasting life.

King Hezekiah

Hezekiah (the might of Jehovah) was the twelfth king of Judah. He was the son of the apostate Ahaz. He was one of the most faithful and illustrious kings of Judah. Concerning him the record states, “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.” (II Chron. 29:2) This is a real compliment. The wicked kings of Israel are all compared to Jeroboam; the partially righteous rulers of Judah are compared to one or another ruler who displayed much the same degree of faithfulness. Few are compared to David, the man after God’s own heart, and Hezekiah is one of these (see also II Kings 18:3,5-7).

His father, King Ahaz, in his wickedness, had pillaged and mutilated the holy temple of the Lord; and Hezekiah’s first act was to purge, repair, and reopen the temple so the sacrificial services could be resumed therein. (II Chron. 29:3-11) In connection with this noble effort Hezekiah said, “It is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us.”—vs. 10

We read further concerning Hezekiah: “In every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.” (II Chron. 31:21) The restoration of the temple and its services is an example of how this righteous king did everything “with all his heart.”—II Chron. 29:4-36

Another measure taken by Hezekiah was to reinstitute the yearly passover. Ordinarily the passover was commemorated in the first month of the their religious year. But some time elapsed after Hezekiah became king before the priests and the Levites—and the people also, for that matter—were prepared to keep the passover. Under the wicked Ahaz the worship of Jehovah had been completely set aside. Ceremonially, the priests, Levites, and people were all unclean.

While Hezekiah instituted his reforms immediately upon his becoming king, the priests and Levites were not prepared, ceremonially, to administer the passover in the first month of their religious year, as was proper under the Law. Hezekiah therefore took counsel with the “princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem,” and it was agreed that for once they would commemorate the passover in the second instead of the first month of the year.—II Chron. 30:1-4; Nu. 9:9-11

“So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written.” “Letters from the king” went out saying: “Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria.”—vss. 5-7

There is an important point here which should not be overlooked. By the time Hezekiah became king of Judah, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, which was instituted by the wicked king Jeroboam, had fallen, and a large portion of the people had been taken captive to Assyria. But there was a sizable remnant of the ten tribes still in Palestine, and it was to these, as well as to the people of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah over which Hezekiah ruled, that the letters of invitation were sent to gather at Jerusalem to commemorate the passover.

Hezekiah urged the Israelites not to be stiff-necked, like their fathers, but to yield themselves to the Lord to serve him, promising that if they did his fierce wrath would turn away from them. Hezekiah promised further: “If ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.”—vs. 9

The account says that those who delivered these letters to the Israelites were laughed to scorn and mocked. But not by all, for we read: “Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem. Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the Word of the Lord. And there assembled at Jerusalem much people to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation.”—vss. 11-13

The “much people” who assembled for the passover were very enthusiastic. For several generations those of the ten-tribe kingdom had been serving false gods and doubtless had very little, if any, knowledge of the requirements of the Law preparatory to observing the passover. In their enthusiasm they rushed into the observance unprepared. We read, “A multitude of the people … had not cleansed themselves, yet they did eat the passover otherwise than it is written.” Hezekiah knew, however, that they were not willful in this, and “prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.”—vss. 18,19

“Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (I Sam. 16:7) Hezekiah seemed to know this and was himself taking the Lord’s viewpoint of these Israelites who had so enthusiastically returned to the worship of the true God. The Lord answered his prayer favorably, and the people were healed. It was a happy and blessed occasion. We read: “The children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord. And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord.”—vss. 21,22

An Enemy from Without

After Hezekiah restored the worship of the true God of Israel, the land was invaded by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. The Assyrians had already conquered the ten-tribe kingdom, and now the purpose was to capture Jerusalem and bring the two-tribe kingdom into subjection. Hezekiah was keenly aware of this evil purpose and “took counsel with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city: and they did help him.” (ch. 32:1-4) They also stopped “the brook that ran through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?”

One source of Hezekiah’s strength as king of Judah was his willingness to consult with his princes and other leading men of state in matters of importance. This reveals his humility, and in humility there is strength. But even more important to him than the advice of his partners in the government was his reliance upon the Lord. He did all he could to prepare the land, and Jerusalem, against the expected attack, and then to a large gathering of the people which he had summoned “in the street of the gate of the city” he said: “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is the arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested [margin, ‘leaned’] themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.”—II Chron. 32:6-8

Verse 9 of this chapter informs us that Sennacherib sent messengers to Jerusalem who endeavored to persuade those guarding the city, and all the people, to forsake Hezekiah and surrender in order to save their lives. The Prophet Isaiah was contemporary with Hezekiah and was in Jerusalem at the time. In chapters 37 and 38 of his Book he fills in the information that when this effort failed, the persuasive eloquence of one named Rabshakeh was employed in an effort to induce Hezekiah to surrender.

His chief line of attack was to convince Hezekiah and his associates that their God was helpless to protect them against the strength of Sennacherib’s army. In reality it was a blasphemous attack against Jehovah. Despite his strong faith in the Lord, Hezekiah was greatly disturbed. He sent messengers to Isaiah, who said unto them; “Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword of his own land.”—Isa. 37:1-7

Rabshakeh returned from his master, Sennacherib, bearing a threatening letter to Hezekiah. Hezekiah read the letter and then took the matter to the Lord in prayer. He concluded his prayer, saying, “Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only.”—Isa. 37:14-20

Like many of the wonderful prayers recorded in the Old Testament, the burden of this one was the honor and glory of Jehovah’s name. And God’s prestige was at stake. The kingdom of Judah was the Lord’s kingdom, which, for his servant David’s sake, he had promised to protect; so he replied to Hezekiah through Isaiah, saying concerning the king of Assyria: “He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it for my own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.”—Isa. 37:33-35

The Lord kept his word. He sent an angel and destroyed 185,000 of the Assyrian army in one night. (vs. 36; II Chron. 32:20,21) “Thus the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided them on every side.”—II Chron. 32:22

Few men in history, even among the Lord’s servants, have been able to remain humble when highly honored. The fame of Hezekiah spread “so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.” (vs. 23) He became ill, “sick to the death, and prayed unto the Lord: and he spake unto him, and he gave him a sign.” (vs. 24) The marginal translation reveals that this sign was a “miracle” which the Lord wrought in behalf of the king. It was indeed a miracle (see II Kings 20:8-11). Isaiah reveals that Hezekiah was restored to health and given fifteen years more of life.—Isa. 38:5

But with all these favors from the Lord, “Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” (II Chron. 32:25) He forgot for the time that his great success and popularity were not due to his own wisdom and strength but to the Lord. When threatened by the Assyrians, he donned sackcloth and sprinkled ashes upon himself and cried to the Lord for help. The Lord delivered him and his people, and now he was accepting the glory for himself.

The Lord was displeased with this and decreed wrath upon Hezekiah and upon Judah and Jerusalem. But this good king was only temporarily overtaken by the sin of pride. The marginal translation of verse 26 says that he humbled himself for “lifting up” his heart. Because of this, the foretold wrath upon Judah and Jerusalem was postponed until after Hezekiah died.

The son of king Baladan of Babylon, having heard that Hezekiah had been sick, sent messengers with a letter of condolence. It was but a ruse, for actually these messengers served as spies. Trusting them, Hezekiah showed them all his “precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armor [margin, ‘jewels’; Hebrew, ‘vessels,’ or ‘instruments’], and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not.”—Isa. 39:1,2

This was not a willful act on the part of Hezekiah, but nevertheless Isaiah explained to him what the result would be; namely, that in a later time all this treasure would be seized by the king of Babylon. But Hezekiah was assured that this calamity would not come upon Judah while he lived. “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken,” he said to Isaiah, “For there shall be peace and truth in my days.”—Isa. 39:8

Go to Part 17
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