Amaziah – ‘thine heart hath lifted thee up’
John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
There is a sense of promise and expectation when a young man starts his spiritual life with energy and enthusiasm. Amaziah was twenty-five years old ‘when he began to reign’, 2 Kgs. 14. 2, and there must have been a combination of relief and expectation in a nation that had seen the sad close of the reign of Jehoash, his father. How encouraging to see a young man who ‘did that which was right in the sight of the Lord’, v. 3! The narrator notes that his activity was ‘not like David his father’ but some progress was made. How difficult it is to overcome a legacy of error left by a former generation and get back to that which is based solely upon scripture!
We should note the progress that was made in the early days of the reign of Amaziah. Firstly, he sought to restore justice according to the Mosaic law. Those that had been responsible for his father’s death were summarily executed. Such treachery against one who, in spite of his failures, was still the Lord’s anointed must be punished. Secondly, he sought to bring some military organization to the people of God so that a chain of command was established. He assessed the strength of the nation and prepared them for conflict against their enemies. Thirdly, when a man of God came to him he listened, and followed the instructions he gave. He may have made an error of judgement in hiring a hundred thousand mighty men of valour out of Israel, but he was prepared to reverse that decision on the advice of the man of God.
In a practical sense, there is much that we can learn from these early activities of Amaziah. He was a man who sought to do what was right. His execution of those that had killed his father could have been far more extensive. For many there would have been a comprehensive slaughter of the offenders and their families. Amaziah, however, applies the law and brings justice rather than retribution. We must not underestimate this action. It is easy when severe hurt has been done, either to yourself or one you love, to react with ferocity rather than with a manner that seeks justice. Amaziah demonstrated considerable self-control.
He was also a man who sought to bring a sense of order to the affairs of the nation. Whilst his activities centred upon the military, he was still preparing the people of God for the conflicts they would face – whether from external attack or when seeking to overcome their enemies in battle. Our God is a God of order, and we must attach importance to that order that He seeks us to bring to what we do for Him. An ad-hoc and haphazard approach does not befit the people of God. Equally, such an approach displays a weakness which can present an opportunity for attack.
What we might see as one of Amaziah’s significant strengths was his willingness to listen to the man of God who brought the word of God. The advice of God’s messenger was not only opposed to Amaziah’s initial plans, but had a cost of obedience attached to it. It is always difficult to obey when, humanly speaking, the course of action we are required to follow defies human logic. To reduce your army by 100,000 men prior to a major offensive would seem complete folly, yet this is what the man of God told Amaziah to do. Equally, there was a significant cost to obedience. Not only was there the loss of the money invested to hire these mercenaries out of Israel, there was also the diplomatic significance – ‘their anger was greatly kindled against Judah’, 2 Chr. 25. 10. Again, from a human standpoint, surely there must be some sort of compromise that could be negotiated? But Amaziah listened and obeyed. Here is a significant challenge to all of us. When the word of God is clear, what possible compromise can we seek to establish? Like Amaziah, we need simply to obey it. If, like Amaziah, we are asked not to fellowship with unbelievers, are we prepared to obey and to separate ourselves from that which might undermine our testimony? The ways of God are not often easy to understand but, as Amaziah discovered, they are for our blessing.
Having followed the instructions of the man of God we read that ‘he slew of Edom in the valley of salt ten thousand, and took Selah by war’, 2 Kgs. 14. 7. Obedience brought blessing in a victory over the enemy. This is a telling thought! If there is weakness or failure in our spiritual life, is it because we are not seeking to be obedient to the word of God? Can we expect to experience a day-to-day victory over the adversary if we are not prepared to bow to what the scriptures teach? Oh for a listening ear and a tender heart!
Fresh from victory over the Edomites there is a sad mistake made by Amaziah. The wise man warned, ‘There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up’, Prov. 30. 13. It would seem that Amaziah was lifted up in the euphoria of success. What he allowed to take place at the top of the rock, 2 Chr. 25. 12, did not display the same sense of justice of earlier days. However, his failure was seen in one major error, ‘he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them’, v. 14. It seems incredible that a man who had started well should now sink so low. We need to be challenged by the words of the apostle Paul, ‘for when I am weak, then am I strong’, 2 Cor. 12. 10. When Amaziah perceived himself to be strong, then, he was incredibly weak!
What compounded Amaziah’s error was what followed. God sends a prophet to him. What grace God shows! In the face of a clear breach of the first commandment, God would have been righteous to judge Amaziah forthwith, but, instead, He sends a prophet. Would Amaziah listen, as he had before? What a difference we see now! The ear is closed. The heart is hardened. The prophet is not just ignored, he is threatened with death if he chooses to continue his message. Having chosen a pathway of rebellion, Amaziah now seems intent on pursuing it!
The irony of the phrase ‘he snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory’ would not be lost here. Ignoring the advice of God’s prophet, he takes advice from elsewhere and engages upon a reckless fight against Israel. Not only does he ignore the advice of the prophet but he fails to heed the threat of Joash, king of Israel. The defeat he suffers is ignominious. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down. The treasures of the house of God are plundered. Hostages are taken back to Samaria. Eventually, Amaziah suffers the same fate as his father as he becomes the subject of a conspiracy and is killed.
The psalmist describes the blessedness of the man ‘that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful’, Ps. 1. 1. The wisdom of those words is found here in the experience of Amaziah. He took and acted upon the advice of the ungodly men. Defeat was the outcome. But personal defeat is not the only outcome. Sadly, the people of God suffer. The walls of Jerusalem are also broken down. This is the first recorded occasion of this happening, and it is an indication that the people of God are left vulnerable. We should not underestimate the scope of the impact of spiritual failure upon the Lord’s people and upon His testimony!
In the lives of the kings of Judah, how often we might reflect upon the fact that so many started well but finished badly. Such is Amaziah. A young man of promise becomes a victim of pride and a haughty spirit. How careful we need to be, not just in our own life but in the spiritual development of others. Based upon the historical lessons of scripture, the apostle sounds the warning, ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’, 1 Cor. 10. 12.