A Turn for the Worse

32 In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, Jotham the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, began to reign. 33 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha the daughter of Zadok. 34 And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done. 35 Nevertheless, the high places were not removed. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord. 36 Now the rest of the acts of Jotham 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 Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah. 38 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 place.

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.

Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to wage war on Jerusalem, and they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him.2 Kings 15:32-16:5 ESV

In the northern kingdom of Israel, they were going through kings so quickly that the royal palace needed revolving doors to handle the high traffic volume. In just 14 years, they had gone through six different kings, most of whose reigns ended because of assassination. But back in Judah, it was a different story. Azariah (Uzziah) had served as king for 52 years and for the last 11 years of his reign, his son, Jotham served as his co-regent. Their sharing of the kingly role had been necessitated because Azariah had contracted leprosy and was confined to his home. His disease required that he be quarantined and made governance of the nation almost impossible. So, “Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land” (2 Kings 15:5 ESV). The sad reality is that Azariah’s condition was the direct result of his own pride and his decision to violate the Mosaic law. His disobedience incurred God’s divine wrath and judgment, in the form of leprosy. But despite his condition, Azariah was able to continue ruling over the nation of Judah, with his son’s assistance. This also provided Jotham with on-the-job training that helped prepare him for the day when the monarchy would become his alone.

While the final 11 years of Azariah’s reign were marked by leprosy and forced isolation, he had been a good king. For the majority of his 52-year rule, he had done “what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5 ESV). And it seems that Azariah’s love for God was far more infectious than his disease because the author lets us know that Jotham “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done” (2 Kings 15:34 ESV).

But the author of 2 Chronicles adds a few pertinent details that paint a slightly darker image of this young 26-year-old king.

…except he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices. – 2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV

The first part of that statement seems to reflect Jotham’s anger at Yahweh for having struck his father with leprosy. One of the results of Azariah’s contraction of this dreaded disease was that it rendered him unclean and, therefore, unable to enter the temple of God. The book of Leviticus provides the specific command detailing the isolating aspect of the disease.

“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46 NLT

It would seem that Jotham’s decision to avoid the temple was either out of resentment for God’s harsh treatment of his father or out of fear that he might suffer a similar fate.  It’s interesting to note that Jotham “built the upper gate of the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:35 ESV). According to Thomas L. Constable, the upper gate was “an opening between the outer and inner courts on the north side of the temple near the altar of burnt offerings.” This becomes more relevant when you consider that Jotham’s father had been punished by God because he had “entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16 ESV). In doing so, he assumed the role of the priest, in direct violation of God’s law. Now, his son had built a gate that made entrance into that area of the temple more accessible than ever. Perhaps Jotham intended this construction project to be a not-so-subtle statement about his father’s actions and subsequent punishment.

While Jotham accomplished a variety of noteworthy renovation and expansion projects, he also failed to remove the high places on which the people sacrificed to false gods.  As a result, “the people still followed corrupt practices” (2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV). So, while he was busy making improvements to the temple grounds, the people continued to worship idols. But, for the most part, Jotham proved to be a faithful king who tried to honor God. And this brought about the blessing of God.

Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God. – 2 Chronicles 27:6 ESV

And yet, we also begin to see glimpses of God’s coming judgment against the nation of Judah. While the southern kingdom had managed to remain far more faithful than its northern neighbor, there was still a growing sense of spiritual infidelity among its inhabitants. And we see God responding to this unfaithfulness by allowing the nation of Judah to experience His disfavor in the form of foreign powers who begin to harass and test them.

In those days the Lord began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah. – 2 Kings 15:37 ESV

Eventually, Jotham dies and his son, Ahaz takes his place on the throne of Judah. But Ahaz does not share his father’s love for God. In fact, the author’s mention of God sending foreign powers against Judah is a kind of foreshadowing. The nation is about to take a dark turn for the worse. Under Ahaz’s reign, the spiritual fortunes of Judah will decline sharply. He will not continue the godly legacy of his father and grandfather. Instead, he will emulate and even eclipse the sins of the kings of Israel.

He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 2-4 NLT

Ahaz “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (2 Chronicles 28:2 ESV). And his decision to fully embrace the false gods of the Canaanites would cost him dearly. This was a man who became so sold out to idolatry that he regularly “burned his sons as an offering” (2 Chronicles 28:2 ESV). He was willing to sacrifice the lives of his own children in order to win the favor of the gods. But while spilling the blood of his sons failed to garner the attention of his false gods, it did manage to bring down the judgment of Yahweh.

Because of all this, the Lord his God allowed the king of Aram [Syria] to defeat Ahaz and to exile large numbers of his people to Damascus. The armies of the king of Israel also defeated Ahaz and inflicted many casualties on his army. In a single day Pekah son of Remaliah, Israel’s king, killed 120,000 of Judah’s troops, all of them experienced warriors, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:5-6 NLT

God would use the Syrians and the Israelites as His instruments of judgment against Ahaz and the people of Judah. But despite Ahaz’s blatant displays of unfaithfulness, God would not allow these outside forces to completely destroy Judah. The situation quickly became a cycle of sin and judgment. Ahaz’s worship of his false gods would bring the judgment of Yahweh in the form of the Syrians and Israelites. These attacks would cause Ahaz to intensify his efforts to gain the favor of his many gods. His desperation to find a solution would produce further idolatry and result in additional judgment from God. But in his stubbornness, Ahaz never stops to consider that repentance and a return to Yahweh might be the best answer to his problem.

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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson