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Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah: Good, Bad, Good

MORNING MESSAGE: John Cline

Text: 2 Kgs 15,16,18; 2 Chron 27,28; Num 21; John 3 

Reader: Tim Davison    

Most people would claim that if they ruled a nation, they would be a “benevolent dictator”, one who would make wise decisions which would make life better for their nation. But, while preaching through the reigns of the rulers of Israel and Judah, we have seen that becoming a ruler does not guarantee good decisions. Nations prosper under good leadership and suffer under bad. Today, as we preach in some detail about two kings, Jotham and his son Ahaz, and then briefly touch on a third king, Hezekiah, we will be studying, in order, a good king, a bad king, and a good king, whose effects on their nation was palpably good or bad. Jesus instructs us to pray to God, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”. God’s kingdom and will being done on earth should be a priority for   every ruler of any nation. But just as most rulers in our sermon series didn’t seek God’s rule or kingdom in their own lives and nations, the same is true, it seems apparent, for most ruler in today’s world. When the NT later tells us to “pray for” our rulers, we must understand that our prayers are mostly for them to submit their hearts to God and His rule, and that God would be allowed into their lives, and that their nation would enjoy peace and prosperity as God is so honoured. So, starting today with a “good” king, Jotham.

In the second year of Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel, Jotham son of Uzziah king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. His mother’s name was Jerusha daughter of Zadok. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2 Kings 15:32-34)

This “good” king came close to being a “great” king, but instead he ended up being a weak one who brought harm to his nation when he decided to not remove the altars on mountaintops at which his people would worship gods other than YHWH God. The people burned incense and offered sacrifices to false gods in those “high places”. Why didn’t Jotham remove those altars? We aren’t told. His father Uzziah, who is also regarded as being a “good” king, had sinned with sacrifices and incense also, but his sin had not involved going to the “high places” of other gods, but of deciding he was so favoured by YHWH God that he could take the place of the priests God had appointed to go into the Temple to burn incense and offer sacrifices to YHWH God. But God’s will was, and is, not to be mocked, so 80 courageous priests stepped up and stopped Uzziah from going through in his planned sinful action. While in that temple spot, Uzziah was struck with leprosy that stayed with him for his life, making him a social outcast and prisoner in his home. Consequences! Jotham learned from his father Uzziah’s sin.

He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the Lord. The people, however, continued their corrupt practices. Jotham rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple of the Lord and did extensive work on the wall at the hill of Ophel. He built towns in the hill country of Judah and forts and towers in the wooded areas. Jotham waged war against the king of the Ammonites and conquered them. That year the Ammonites paid him a hundred talentsof silver, ten thousand corsof wheat and ten thousand corsof barley. The Ammonites brought him the same amount also in the second and third years. (2 Chron. 27:2-5)

We have read many times that Israel and Judah found themselves being vassal states to more powerful nations such as Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon. That meant that they had to pay huge sums of money to those more powerful nations in exchange for them being nominally allowed to remain as their own nation, but under King Jotham’s leadership, Judah conquered Amon (whose capital city was Damascus) and then forced the Ammonites to bring to Jotham for 3 years 100 “talents” (3.4 metric tons) of silver, and 10,000 “cors” (60,000 bushels) of both wheat and barley. What had made Jotham so powerful? The next verse explains it very clearly:

Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 27:6)

Jotham had not repeated the sin of his father in trying to take the place of the Temple priests. Those kinds of faithful decisions led to God making him powerful. However, his weakness in not dismantling the altars at the “high places” encouraged his people to continue worshipping false gods, a thing that his son Ahaz did, as well. After 16 years of rule, Jotham died and Ahaz took the throne of Judah.

In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, Ahaz son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree. (2 Kings 16:1-4)

Child sacrifice to horrible false gods such as Molech was common in the ancient world, but it was never YHWH God’s intentions for His people. It numbs our sensitivities to know that Ahaz sacrificed his own flesh and blood but the ancient world in both the Middle East as well as the Americas had as normal practices the sacrifice of virgin women, adults, and children. Jotham’s sinful doing of it led to bad consequences, though, as God allowed him to be humbled.

Therefore, the Lord his God delivered him into the hands of the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him. (2 Chronicles 28:5,6)

Remember how Ahaz’s father Jotham was militarily so successful that a neighbouring nation, Amon, had become a vassal state to Judah? Well, this passage shows how quickly a ruler’s sin can turn things around, affecting the well-being of a nation. In Ahaz’s time, instead of ruling another state, Judah now a vassal state to the nation of Aram/Syria, and was also conquered by their northern kinsmen in Israel.

The men of Israel took captive from their fellow Israelites who were from Judah two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters. They also took a great deal of plunder, which they carried back to Samaria. But a prophet of the Lord named Oded was there, and he went out to meet the army when it returned to Samaria. He said to them, “Because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand. But you have slaughtered them in a rage that reaches to heaven. And now you intend to make the men and women of Judah and Jerusalem your slaves. But aren’t you also guilty of sins against the Lord your God? Now listen to me! Send back your fellow Israelites you have taken as prisoners, for the Lord’s fierce anger rests on you.” Then some of the leaders in Ephraim—Azariah son of Jehohanan, Berekiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai—confronted those who were arriving from the war. “You must not bring those prisoners here,” they said, “or we will be guilty before the Lord. Do you intend to add to our sin and guilt? For our guilt is already great, and his fierce anger rests on Israel.” So, the soldiers gave up the prisoners and plunder in the presence of the officials and all the assembly. The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So, they took them back to their fellow Israelites at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria. (2 C 28:8-15)

YHWH God still had love and mercy for His people, as revealed through a prophet from Israel named Oded. God saved the Jews from slavery in Israel, clothed them, and returned them to their homes. But King Ahaz of Judah neither thanked God nor turned to Him in his time of trouble, instead choosing to seek protection from the attacks of Aram/Syria, from Assyria, the emerging superpower of the day.

At that time King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria for help…The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord. Tiglath-Pileserking of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help. Ahaz took some of the things from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace and from the officials and presented them to the king of Assyria, but that did not help him. (2 Chronicles 28:16,19-21)

How different Ahaz was from King David, the one whose family lineage he was part of, and who had displayed his trust in God when he wrote in Psalm 18:6, “In my distress, I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God.” As a result, God saved David from his torment! By contrast, Ahaz, in a foolish, desperate move that made him a laughingstock to the Assyrians, and which revealed to them just how weak he was, took some of the most valuable items from Jerusalem’s Temple, his palace, and from his own royal officials, and he gave all of that as a gift of oblation before the king of Assyria. “But that did not help him”, the biblical writers noted. Instead…

The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death. Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction. So, Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus and finished it before King Ahaz returned. When the king came back from Damascus and saw the altar, he approached it and presented offeringson it. He offered up his burnt offering and grain offering, poured out his drink offering, and splashed the blood of his fellowship offerings against the altar. As for the bronze altar that stood before the Lord, he brought it from the front of the temple—from between the new altar and the temple of the Lord—and put it on the north side of the new altar. King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: “On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Splash against this altar the blood of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.” And Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered. King Ahaz cut off the side panels and removed the basins from the movable stands. He removed the Sea from the bronze bulls that supported it and set it on a stone base. He took away the Sabbath canopythat had been built at the temple and removed the royal entryway outside the temple of the Lord, in deference to the king of Assyria. (2 Kings 16:9-18)

It was unusual for the kings of Judah to visit other kingdoms, but this trip by Ahaz to the just-conquered Damascus was not for sight-seeing or visiting purposes but was an official act of submission to his new master, King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. And, if his grovelling and prior giving of valuable gifts to Tiglath-Pileser was not enough of a sign of weakness, Ahaz then came up with a plan that might impress him: making a copy of a pagan altar that Tiglath-Pileser worshipped at and placing it in YHWH’s temple in Jerusalem. That new altar would replace the old altar to YHWH in Jerusalem’s Temple. Ahaz announced that he would go to it, and to its Assyrian gods, for guidance from that time forward, not to YHWH God, a sacrilege that brought much grief.

In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he thought, “Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.” But they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel. Ahaz gathered together the furnishings from the temple of God and cut them in pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. (2 Chronicles 28:22-25)

Ahaz worshiped the gods of the kings of Assyria, shut the doors of YHWH’s Temple in Jerusalem, set up altars to false gods on every street corner in Jerusalem, and in every town in Judah built “high places” at which sacrifices to those false gods of Assyria were encouraged. But those actions brought much trouble upon Judah and the people knew it. When Ahaz died, the people did not bury him in the traditional burial ground of kings but in another plot, in disgrace!

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel,

Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. (2 Kings 18:1)

Good king, bad king, good king. Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, was a good king! He began reigning during the time that Hoshea, the final king of the nation of Israel would commit sins that led to God’s lifting of His protective hand of covering from off of them, which, in turn, led to Assyria crushing Israel forever, and taking the people away into exile in Assyria. Seeing that in horror, and reflecting upon the grief the sins of his father Ahaz had brought upon his own nation of Judah, Hezekiah responded in a most sensible way: by living for the Lord God YHWH and serving Him faithfully. Listen to what he did…

He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijahdaughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) (2 Kings 18:2-4)

Finally, someone with the spiritual wisdom and courage to destroy the idolatrous high places that were throughout the land of Judah! Hezekiah was a true hero of faith! And not only did he do away with worship of false gods, Hezekiah also dealt decisively with an object that had become an item of idolatry. What happened was this: several hundred years before, after YHWH God had miraculously saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and while Moses was leading those rescued people in the Sinai desert before they could enter into the Promised Land, the people became fed up with all that wandering, and complained about God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Think about this: that “miserable food” was the delicious honey-tasting like bread known as “manna” that God miraculously provided for them to eat each morning.  As a result, God allowed venomous snakes to enter their camp, bite some of the people, and many Israelites died. Consequences of sin!         

The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:7-9)

The people, if they wanted to live, were to quit focusing their gaze on their troubles down below but obey what God instructed and look up for healing and deliverance. “Look up and I will rescue you”, God said. “Don’t look down but up!” That bronze snake was given the name “Nehushtan” which literally means, “Bronze snake”. Nehushtan did not heal and deliver the people. God, and the people’s obedience to His words, healed and delivered them. The people were so amazed by this event that they preserved Nehushtan, considering it a good luck charm that had magical healing powers of its own and was thus worthy of their worship (similar to places such as Lourdes in France, or Lac Ste. Anne just one hour west of Edmonton, etc., to which pilgrims go, hoping to be healed, all because some healing event in the past took place in those spots). The Jews’ veneration of the bronze snake, Nehushtan, King Hezekiah recognized as being idolatry, a replacing of the greater – YHWH God – with a lesser – a bronze replica of a snake on a pole. This was in disobedience to God’s commands against false worship and idolatry. Now, as we near the end of this sermon, one might mistakenly think that this would be the last mention of Nehushtan in the Bible, but such was not the case. Among Christians, the most beloved verses in the NT are John 3:16 and 17. Most Christians can quote them without much effort, but did you know what the two verses before them are about? Jesus explains.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. (John 3:14,15)

Just as anyone who was bitten by a snake was healed when they looked up to Moses’ bronze snake, so can anyone who looks up to Jesus, the one the NT says was lifted up on a “pole”, the cross of Calvary, be healed of the sin virus that afflicts every human being. Just as the only hope the Israelite people had of being healed and delivered of their affliction was by obeying God and looking up in faith, so must people quit arguing with God and instead obey His instruction to look at Jesus to be healed and saved. As Peter explained to his listeners in Acts 4:12, “There is no other one through which salvation can be obtained.” Let’s read John 3:16,17 out loud together:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16,17)

So, what have we learned from today’s study. Here is what the Bible tells us to learn about good king Jotham:

Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 27:6)

And, here is what we are to learn from bad king Ahaz:

The Lord his God delivered him into the hands of the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him. (2 Chronicles 28:5,6)

And, finally, here is what we are to learn from good king Hezekiah:

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. (2 Kings 18:5-7a)

Let us reflect on the lives of those three kings and live accordingly!

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