Jotham & Ahaz
Ken Totton, Cambridge, England
(read 2 Chronicles chapter 27)
How refreshing to read of a king who ‘did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord’, and consequently enjoyed God’s blessing, 2 Chr. 27. 2, 6! Jotham’s success was the result of deliberate spiritual resolve, cp. Prov. 4. 23.
In many ways he continued the good work that his father Uzziah had carried out in strengthening defences and waging war against enemies. This shows the power of godly parental example. At the same time, he learned from Uzziah’s costly trespass, and its judgement, v. 2. As Paul instructed Timothy, disciplining sinning leaders will have a wholesome effect upon others, ‘As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear’, 1 Tim. 5. 20 ESV.
Whilst Jotham was a good king, we read, ‘But still the people acted corruptly’, 2 Chr. 27. 2; ‘However the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places’, 2 Kgs. 15. 35. In addition to the idolatry, the prophets expose the deeper moral corruption of Judah, Isa. 1. 5; Mic. 1. 5. The people enjoyed the benefits of godly rule yet worshipped and behaved as they saw fit. There was a major gap between the convictions of the leadership and those led. In our day, it is all too easy for members of assemblies to benefit from the spirituality of a few godly souls, whilst living on a far lower spiritual plane.
Following his father, Jotham was a builder, constructing extensively on the temple mount at Jerusalem, 2 Chr. 27. 3. Likewise, those who teach the word are builders, and need to take heed to the foundation on which they build, and the quality of the construction, 1 Cor. 3. 11-13. He was also concerned to strengthen Judah against enemy incursion, by building forts and towers, v. 4. In the same spirit, Paul exhorted that watch be kept continually against destructive intruders, Acts 20. 28-31; Phil. 3. 2-3.
The accession of a new king was often seen as an opportunity for revolt by vassal states as they tested the mettle of the incoming monarch. Jotham was therefore concerned to subdue the old enemy, Ammon, by exacting tribute. There is a clear hint, however, that this did not continue beyond the third year, 2 Chr. 27. 5. We can never afford to relax our constant fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil!
(read 2 Kings chapter 16; 2 Chronicles chapter 28; Isaiah chapter 7)
Ahaz, son of Jotham, was a thoroughly bad king. His record has the unhappy distinction of being devoid of any redeeming features. We are ominously told that ‘he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel’, and following verses sketch the depths to which he descended, even sacrificing his own sons. It was during his reign that the underlying godlessness of the people noted earlier, 2 Chr. 27. 2, was given full expression, with nothing to arrest the apostasy. A key word in this chapter that describes the attitude of Ahaz is ‘unfaithful’, vv. 19, 22, ‘trespassing’ KJV. He acted treacherously against the Lord and encouraged his people to do the same. The practice of ‘the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel’ would result, in time, in Judah’s expulsion from the land – the exile in Babylon.
Exactly as Moses predicted, Deut. 28. 25, the Lord brought judgement on Judah by giving them into the hands of Rezin and Pekah, kings respectively of Syria and the northern kingdom, Israel. Apparently they wanted Ahaz to join their anti-Assyrian alliance. When God’s people behave faithlessly, He acts in discipline. In fact, history had repeated itself. Just as God used Judah to punish Israel in the days of Abijah, 2 Chr. 13. 4-18, so now roles were reversed, for God is no respecter of persons. The men of Israel took a large number of captives with the intention of enslaving them, as well as the spoils of battle, 28. 8. However, they overstepped the mark as the instruments of God’s punishment of Judah, v. 9, cp. Zech. 1. 15.
Yet, it is just at this point that a most remarkable episode takes place, unique in Chronicles. Oded, a prophet in Samaria, rebuked the returning soldiers, warning that they had incurred God’s wrath by enslaving their ‘brethren’, 2 Chr. 28. 8, 11. Whilst the Chronicler has no time for the kings of Israel, he recognizes the people of the north as brothers. Thus, both Israel and Judah stood alike guilty and under the wrath of God. Courageously, several chiefs of Ephraim engaged the triumphant warriors, and confronted them with the enormity of their guilt, v. 14.
Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance shows itself in appropriate actions, 2 Cor. 7. 10; Matt. 3. 8. So the hapless men of Judah were clothed, shod, supplied, anointed, and the needy transported. We may recall the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’, Luke 10. 29-39, and savour the many instructive parallels!
Isaiah’s interventions disregarded
The behaviour of Ahaz is all the more culpable because he acted in defiance of the ministry of Isaiah. How dreadful the portion of those who persistently sin against the light of God’s word, Prov. 29. 1! Isaiah appealed to both king and people not to seek from Assyria. Meeting Ahaz ‘at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field’, he bade him have no fear of ‘these two stubs of smoking firebrands’, Rezin and Pekah, for, like dying torches, they would speedily be extinguished, Isa. 7. 3-4. If he would not believe this he would not be established, v. 9. Failing to win the young king’s confidence, Isaiah was sent a second time, with the offer of any sign Ahaz chose to ask, to authenticate God’s word. In nauseating false piety the king answered, ‘I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!’ vv. 10-12. Instead, ambassadors were dispatched to the Assyrian king to buy his favour, 2 Kgs. 16. 8; 2 Chr. 28. 16. So Ahaz is castigated for seeking help from the ungodly rather than waiting upon God, Isa. 7. 13-25. Yet Isaiah, in reply to Ahaz, gave the glorious prophecy of Immanuel, v. 14. How marvellous the grace and faithfulness of God!
Predictably, the high-risk plan back-fired. The Assyrian king afflicted him, instead of strengthening him, and the faithless Ahaz raided the house of the Lord to pay the heavy tribute demanded, 2 Chr. 28. 20, 21. How sad when erring saints under pressure instinctively turn to worldly resources. By contrast the psalmist recorded, ‘In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord’, Ps. 77. 2.
Desecration of the temple
The king removed the ten lavers of Solomon from the ornamental bases on which they had stood, cp. 1 Kgs. 7. 27-39, and also the molten sea from the twelve brazen bulls which supported it, the sea being placed instead upon a raised platform or pavement, 2 Kgs. 16. 17. Presumably the metal removed went some way towards paying the heavy tribute placed upon the kingdom.
In 732 BC Ahaz was summoned to Damascus to pay homage to Tiglath-pileser, 2 Kgs. 16. 10. There he saw an altar, the design of which greatly appealed to him. He had a copy of it placed in the temple court. Returning to Jerusalem, the king sacrificed at the new altar, but, not satisfied with its position, gave orders for a change. He wanted the brazen altar moved to the north, and the new altar to be placed in line with it in front of the temple. Orders were further given that the customary sacrifices should be offered on the new altar, now called ‘the great altar’, while the king reserved the brazen altar for himself ‘to inquire by’, i.e., divination as practised by pagan rulers, 2 Kgs. 16. 15.
When rulers persist in godlessness it can seem that the very stars in their courses fight against them, Judg. 5. 20. Yet, ‘that king Ahaz’, 2 Chr. 28. 22, had still further depths of folly and wantonness to plumb. Defeated by the Syrians, he succumbed to the philosophy ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, and in desperation he sacrificed to the gods of the victorious Syrians, with ruinous consequences. He cut in pieces the sacred vessels of the house of God, 2 Kgs. 16. 17, and shut the doors of the house of God. Eventually, the Babylonians would destroy the temple and carry off its vessels, but how despicable that a Davidic king, responsible for shepherding his people, should bar God’s flock from it! How grave, too, the injuries to the cause of Christ perpetrated within Christendom, where false teaching and paganism has often distanced souls from God, rather than drawn them near to Him!
Interestingly, in the story of Jotham, the Chronicler briefly notes the idolatry of the people, 2 Chr. 27. 2. By contrast, at the death of Ahaz their consensus was that he did not merit a tomb among the kings, 28. 27. Mercifully, amidst all the idolatry and faithlessness, the faith of Judah had not been wholly extinguished. Indeed, one of Judah’s brightest eras was about to dawn.