Lectures on 2 Chronicles 26-31

 •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Then follows Uzziah (chap. 26.). “And he did that which was right in the sight of Jehovah, according to all that his father Amaziah did. And he sought God in the days of Zechariah who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought Jehovah, God made him to prosper. And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines. And God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gur-Baal, and the Mehunims. And the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah: and his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt; for he strengthened himself exceedingly. Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the corner gate, and at the valley gate, and at the turning of the wall, and fortified them. Also he built towers in the desert, and digged many wells: for he had much cattle, both in the low country, and in the plains husbandman and vine dressers in the mountains, and in Carmel: for he loved husbandry. Moreover, Uzziah had a host of fighting men” —a standing army.
All this, no doubt, looked fair. “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against Jehovah his God, and went into the temple of Jehovah to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of Jehovah, that were valiant men: and they withstood Uzziah the king, and Said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah to burn incense unto Jehovah, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from Jehovah, God. Then Uzziah was wrath,” and although he stood with a censer in his hand, even at the moment, “the leprosy rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of Jehovah from beside the incense altar. And Azariah, the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because Jehovah had smitten him.” It was a signal judgment even in this day of weakness and unfaithfulness. So he lived a leper to the day of his death.
His son Jotham (chap. 27.) follows in the right way in a measure as his father did. He entered not into the temple of Jehovah as his father had done; but the people did yet corruptly. However, he builds, and wars and becomes mighty, because he prepared his ways before Jehovah his God.
Jotham dies, and Ahaz succeeds him, an impious son, who “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim” (chap. 28.). Not satisfied with that, he, even as we know, brought down the pattern of a new altar from Damascus into the very house of God; but God smote him: “Pekah, the son of Remaliah, slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken Jehovah God of their fathers.” And so we find further sorrows without end upon Ahaz, so that in the extremity of his distress he sends for a little help to the king of Assyria, only to add to his sorrows.
I need not dwell upon this, though it is one of the most important points in the history of Judah, for it was the great crisis when the magnificent burst of prophecy came from God. Isaiah had begun, no doubt, before, in the days of Uzziah and Jotham; but it was in Ahaz's time that the prophecy of Emmanuel was given: yea, it was to Ahaz himself. What grace, that a wicked man should bring forth from God the distinctest pledge of the glory of the Messiah I Yet, so it was. How completely God moves above the evil of man! And if God be so to the evil, what is He not to the righteous? How should we not, then, ever confide in His love?
Ahaz, after a most distressful, as well as guilty reign, comes to his end, and Hezekiah reigns in his stead (chap. 29.). Here we have a man of faith—a man of singular confidence in the Lord, and Hezekiah “in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of Jehovah and repaired them.” There was no time lost. In the first year and the first month “And he brought in the priests and the Levites and gathered them together into the east street, and said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of Jehovah God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of Jehovah our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of Jehovah, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel. Wherefore the wrath of Jehovah was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes. For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with Jehovah God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us. My sons, be not now negligent: for Jehovah hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense.”
What a state! Yet there was the law; but such was the practice. The people of today wonder at the departure is Christendom since the time of the apostles. The departure was not so easy under Israel, because Israel's worship consisted so very much of external observances, and they might be done even by unconverted men. But in the church, everything depends upon the Spirit of God, and therefore the departure is incomparably more easy in the church than it was under Israel. Yet people wonder that the church has gone astray. To what purpose have they read their Bibles, and why has God given us this most solemn departure in Israel but to warn us of ours? Has he not in the New Testament put forward prophecy after prophecy of the departure that he saw at hand? “Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” What did it depend upon? On what condition? Except the Gentile continued in the goodness of God he should be cut off like the Jew. Has the Gentile continued in the goodness of God? Is Protestant devotion and the splitting up of the church of God without a care? Is Popish or Greek idolatry continuing in the goodness of God? The Gentile has not continued in the goodness of God, and must be cut off no less than Israel and Judah.
Well, here was a pious man; and what a mercy to think that God raises up in Christendom as he did in Israel. But you will observe this: no piety of Jehoshaphat, no faith of Hezekiah, turned the current of evil. There is a stay: they find a footing in the midst of the current and they resist it. They are sustained of God, but the current of evil still passes on till it ends in the gulf of judgment. And so we find now. Hezekiah gave no doubt a fair and beautiful promise of a better day. But it was only the morning cloud and passing dew; so he calls upon them not to be negligent, and the Levites answer to his call to cleanse the house of Jehovah.
This was the great thing. It was not merely personal cleansing, but cleansing the house of Jehovah. The house of Jehovah answers to our being gathered together. It is not enough to be personally pure: we ought to be pure in our associations: we ought to be pure in our worship. If there is anything in which we ought to be pure it is the worship of God. I cannot understand the piety of persons that are content with what they know is wrong in the worship of God. It seems to me sadly inconsistent to say the least. I know there are difficulties. Faith always has difficulties; but faith always surmounts them. So it was with Hezekiah. No doubt it seemed a very strange thing to be blaming everybody for so long a time; but he did not think of that, and I am persuaded that Hezekiah was not a high-minded, but a most lowly, man. It is a mere stigma and calumny to call faith proud. The world always does. Christians ought not to do so: they ought to know better.
So they began on the first day of the first month. What alacrity! “Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the Month came they to the porch of Jehovah: so they sanctified the house of Jehovah in eight days; and in the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end” (verse 17). Then they went unto Hezekiah the king and told him. Hezekiah prepares accordingly. “Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city and went up to the house of Jehovah.” It is all the same stamp. It was a man filled with the sense of the glory of God, and there was not a moment to be lost. If I want to obey why should I not begin at once? What am I waiting for? “And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he-goats, for a sin offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary and for Judah. And he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of Jehovah. So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received the blood and sprinkled it on the altar: likewise, when they had killed the rams they sprinkled the blood upon the altar: they killed also the lambs, and they sprinkled the blood upon the altar. And they brought forth the he-goats for the sin offering before the king and the congregation; and they laid their hands upon them. And the priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.”
Let me call your attention to what is here said “for all Israel,” as we have it also in the 21st verse— “for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah.” Not for Judah only, but for the whole nation, Israel and Judah. This is a fine action of Hezekiah's faith. Personally pure and devoted in his own sphere, his heart went out towards all that belonged to God. They might be idolaters, but he makes an atonement. The more, therefore, they needed the atonement, the more they needed that others should feel for them if they felt not for themselves and for God.
And so we should feel now. We ought not to care merely for the Christians that we know. Surely we ought to love them; but our hearts ought always, in private and in public, to take in the whole church of God. We are never right if we do not. There is sectarian leaven in our hearts if we do not go out towards all that are of God. So with Hezekiah. It was for all Israel—for the king commanded. It was the king, you see. The priests, no doubt, did not think about it. They were so accustomed merely to offer up sacrifices for Judah that they, no doubt, never thought about “all Israel"; but the king did. “The king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.” And everything was done in its proper order. There was no neglect of what was seemly or decent. “And he set the Levites in the house of Jehovah with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet; for so was the commandment of Jehovah by his prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of Jehovah began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded, and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped. Moreover, Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto Jehovah with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.”
And thus all was done in beautiful order and, as we are told in the last verses, “the service of the house of Jehovah was set in order. And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly.” But it was none the worse for that. There had been nothing like this since the days of king Solomon; so long had care for the house of God fallen into disuse.
But Hezekiah was not content with this (chap. 30.). “He sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh that they should come to the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem to keep the passover unto Jehovah God of Israel.” This seemed, no doubt, a very bold thing, and I have not a doubt that they considered that the king was behaving in a very presumptuous manner. “What business had he to send to all Israel? He was only king of Judah! Why should he not be content with his own people? He was proselyting. They did not like it. They thought it was exceedingly improper to be taking away the Israelites to Jerusalem. But Hezekiah was thinking of God. Hezekiah was filled with the sense of what was due to the claims of Jehovah. Jehovah had set his house in one place for all Israel.
Now there is nothing that gives a person such boldness as this, and nothing, also, that sets hive to work so earnestly as this. If we are merely contending for doctrines of our own it does seem rather strong to expect other people to receive them. If it is merely my own doctrine I had better make myself happy with my own affairs. But if it is God's grace, if it is God's worship, if it is God's way, has it not a claim upon all that are God's? The moment you see that, you can go forward, and you can appeal to the conscience of all that belong to God, that they should be faithful to God's own will and word. And what I want the children of God to see now clearly, and all the children of God as far as He is pleased to give it efficacy, is that they are set not merely upon something better than what other people have, but upon what is God's will, because that must be the best of all; and inasmuch as they have got the book of God they can see, and are responsible, to find this out for themselves. Anything that is herein has a claim upon a child of God—and more particularly as regards the worship, of God. I grant you that in human things what is of man has a claim; but not so in divine things. “Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”
I think it was in this spirit, therefore, not trying to be a Cesar over Israel, or even recalling Israelites to their allegiance to himself, which perhaps he might have done, that Hezekiah so acted. He was a man of faith, and he knew well that it was of God the rending off the ten tribes from the house of David, and therefore he did not ask the tribes for himself, but he did ask them for God. He sent out “to all Israel and Judah” (chap. 30.). And so should we do now. We ought not to desire the world. Let men, if they will, seek the world, and the pretended worship of the world. Let them seekthe masses” as they say. Let them have the masses if they will, and if the masses are weak enough to follow them. But the business of faith is to call upon all who have faith in the same of the Lord, and to get them to follow His word. So did Hezekiah now, according to what God gave him. “And the thing pleased the king and all the congregation.” What I call your attention particularly to is this. Nobody thought of all this for all these years. Nobody thought of it but Hezekiah. The more you draw near to God, the more you love the people of God. It was because God was so great in Hezekiah's eyes that the people of God were so dear to Hezekiah, and so he claimed them for God and called them to come out from their abominations. “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 Jehovah God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written"! How quickly people departed from what was written!
“So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel” —not merely “Ye children of Judah,” but “Ye children of Israel, turn again unto Jehovah 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. And be not ye like your fathers and like your brethren which trespassed against Jehovah God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation as ye see. Now, be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto Jehovah, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified forever.” God's principles do not change. It is all a mistake that because the apostles are gone so the apostles' truth is gone. Not so; it abides, and forever. It is always binding on the people of God. So here with the sanctuary in Jerusalem. “So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.”
As it was then, so is it now. The more true, the more it be according to God, so the more is the contempt of men who have chosen to blend the world with Christ. “Nevertheless, divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.” In the most unlikely and distant quarters, and where no one could possibly look for them, there are those that have humbled themselves and have come. “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 Jehovah.” And there they assembled. “And they arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away and cast them into the brook Kidron. Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month, and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of Jehovah, and they stood in their place” —because this was in consequence of some not being ready. The priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently. The second month was the gracious provision that God made in the case of uncleanness in the wilderness as we may see in Num. 9:1111The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. (Numbers 9:11).
How good is the word of the Lord! They must keep the passover; but, on the other hand, they could not keep it if they were unclean. This provision came in, therefore, when they were consciously unclean, that they might purify themselves and keep it so now. But there is no lowering the standard. There ought to be consideration for the weakness, and there is given them time to learn; but the standard must not be lowered, and so we find, further, that “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 Jehovah day by day, singing with loud instruments unto Jehovah. And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites"; and, in fact, there was a happy and a holy time come, “for Hezekiah king of Judah did give to the congregation a thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; and the princes gave to the congregation a thousand bullocks and ten thousand sheep: and a great number of priests sanctified themselves. And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced. So there was great joy in Jerusalem.”
In the next chapter (31.) we find that this faithfulness on the part of the Jews of Judah gave a great impulse to their fidelity. True faithfulness always flows from faith, and if we are right in the worship of God we shall seek to be right in our walk. A low worship always goes with a low walk. It would be an awful thing and most condemnatory if there was carelessness of God's worship and a want of care of our personal ways and walk. We have to see to that. “Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his own possession, into their own cities. And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests,” for he was not content with what he had done. He carries out the work still more fully. And we are told in the end of the 31st chapter, “Thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before Jehovah his God. And 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.”
(To be continued)