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Bible History Old Testament Vol. 7

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    Chapter 6: Azariah, or Uzziah, (Tenth) King of Judah

    State of Judah at the Accession of Uzziah—Account of his Reign in the Book of Kings—Re-occupation of Elath—Religious Condition of Judah—Expedition against the Philistines and Neighboring Tribes—Occupation of Trans-Jordanic Territory—Restoration and Extension of the Fortifications of Jerusalem—Re-organization—Prosperity of the Country—Growing Pride and Corruption—The Sacrilege of Uzziah—His Leprosy and Death—Jewish Legends

    (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26)

    WHATEVER motives had determined the selection of Uzziah by all the people of Judah as successor to his murdered father (2 Kings 14:21), the choice proved singularly happy. To adapt the language of the prophetAmos 9:11, which, as mostly all prophetic announcements of the Messianic future, takes for its starting and connecting point reference to the present, easily understood, and hence full of meaning to contemporaries—Uzziah found, on his accession, “the tabernacle of David,” if not “fallen” and in “ruins,” yet with threatening “breaches” in it. Never had the power of Judah sunk lower than when, after the disastrous war with—Israel. the heir of David was tributary to Jehoash, and the broken walls of Jerusalem laid the city open and defenseless at the feet of the conqueror. This state of things was absolutely reversed during the reign of Uzziah; and at its close Judah not only held the same place as Israel—under the former reign, but surpassed it in might and glory.BHOTV7 66.1

    There can be little doubt that Jeroboam II. retained the hold over Judah which his father Jehoash had gained; and this, not only during the fifteen years after his accession, in which Amaziah of Judah still occupied the throne, but even in the beginning of the reign of Uzziah. For “breaches” such as those that had been made are not speedily repaired, and Uzziah was, at his accession, a youth of only sixteen years (2 Kings 15:2). We therefore incline to the view that the otherwise unintelligible notice (2 Kings 15:1), that Uzziah acceded “in the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam” bears reference to the time when he had shaken off the suzerainty of Jeroboam, and “began to reign” in the real sense of the term.BHOTV7 66.2

    This would make the period of Judah’s liberation the twenty-seventh after Jeroboam’s accession, and the twelfth after the elevation of Uzziah to the throne, when that monarch was twenty-eight years of age. 1This is the view of Kleinert in Riehm’s Hand-Worterb ii. p. 1704a. Others have regarded the numeral 27 (zk) as a clerical error for 15 (wf). In any case Uzziah could not have acceded in the 27th year of Jeroboam, as appears from a comparison with 2 Kings 14:2, 17, 23.BHOTV7 66.3

    Important though the reign of Uzziah was—chiefly from a political, but also from a religious point of view—the writer of the Book of Kings gives only a few and these the briefest notices of it. In fact, he may be said only to single out the leading characteristics of that period. As regards political events, he marks the beginning of the recovery of Judah’s power in the occupation of the important harborof Elath, and the rebuilding of that town (2 Kings 14:22). This, as we shall show reason for believing, probably in the early years of the accession of Uzziah. 2This seems even implied by the otherwise strange addition in 2 Kings 14:22: “after the king fell asleep.” Comp. the same in 2 Chronicles 26:2.BHOTV7 67.1

    As always, he records the age of the new king and the duration of his reign, as well as the name of his mother (2 Kings 15:2). If the suggestion previously made is correct, he also notices the exact time of the recovery of Judaean independence from Israel (2 Kings 15:1). Again, the religious character of this reign is described; while, lastly, the unhappy fate and end of the king are recorded, although without mention of what led to it. Manifestly the point of view in the Book of Kings is simply “prophetic”—not, as in Chronicles, priestly—and the writer hurries over events alike of a political and a personal character, to indicate what seems to him of main importancethe theocratic relation of the people to Jehovah. 3Bahr, u.s., p. 376.BHOTV7 67.2

    The brief outline in the Book of Kings is amply filled up in that of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 26.). Here, also, the first event recorded is the taking of Elath. This important harbor, from which, as from the neighboring Ezion-Geber, Solomon had sent his fleet of traders to Ophir (1 Kings 9:26-28; 2 Chronicles 8:17, 18), lay on the north-eastern end of the Gulf of Akabah, and at present bears the same name. Of its ancient greatness only a tower remains for protection of the pilgrims to Mecca. 4It is the tenth station on the road from Cairo to Mecca.BHOTV7 67.3

    Around it are ruins and wretched hovels; but abundance of date-palms still betokens the former fertility. For half-an-hour beyond the town stretch, along the blue gulf, sands covered with beautiful shells; the view being finally shut off by granite and sandstone mountains. Such is the present aspect of “Eloth” (or Elath) “the strong trees.” There can be little doubt that when in the days of Joram of Judah “BHOTV7 67.4

    Edom revolted” (2 Kings 8:20-22), Elath recovered its independence. The conquest of Edom by Amaziah had apparently only extended as far as Petra, about half, way between the Dead Sea and Elath. In occupying it again and rebuilding it, Uzziah therefore completed the subjection of the country by his father. Such an expedition could not, in the state of EdomBHOTV7 68.1

    , have offered any real difficulty, however much its success must, after the late disasters, have raised the courage of Judah and inspired the people with confidence. These circumstances, as well as the place which the narrative occupies in the sacred text, lead us to infer that this was the first military undertaking of Uzziah, And, in view of his ultimate purpose as regarded Israel, the king would naturally begin with what was not only certain of success, but would also secure his rear in any future expedition. Nor was this all. A wide-reaching plan of national restoration would embrace the revival of commerce. And what prominence the new Tarshish mercantile marine held in public thought, and how it affected life in Judah in the days of Jotham, the successor of Uzziah, appears from the allusion in Isaiah 2:16.BHOTV7 68.2

    As regards the religious condition of the country it is significant that, as the reign of former kings, so the present was characterized by a combination of doing “the right in the sight of Jehovah,” with a continuance of “the high places,” and their sacrifices and worship. It seems to indicate that this strange mixture in religion marked the highest point attained by the people. But even this qualified adherence to the worship of the Lord was only temporary, as the text explains: “in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God” 5For the present Masoretic text: (...) (in the A.V. “understanding in the visions”) we have evidently to read (the second word) (...), “in the fear”—as many Codd., the LXX., Syr. Targ., the Jewish, and mostly all Christian interpreters. The first word should then be rendered either “understanding” in the fear of God (so the LXX.) or “instructing” in it. We prefer the latter interpretation (with the Syr. Targ., Rabbis, and many interpreters). The expression occurs in the same sense in Nehemiah 8:9. This Zechariah is not otherwise known. Needless to say that he was not the “prophet” of that name; nor even he that is mentioned in Isaiah 8:2, who lived a generation later. (2 Chronicles 26:5). This prepares us alike for the later history of the king, and for what we shall learn of the condition of the people.BHOTV7 68.3

    But the first or religious period of the reign of Uzziah was one of continuous and progressive prosperity. Although it is not possible to determine the precise chronological succession of events, it seems likely that the expedition against the Philistines soon followed that to the Red Sea. The object of it was finally to break up the great anti-Judaean confederacy which, in the days of King Jehoram, had wrought such havoc in Judah, after the successful revolt of Edom (2 Chronicles 21:8-10). 6See Vol. 6.BHOTV7 69.1

    The defeat of Edom must have rendered this expedition also one of comparative ease. One by one the great Philistine cities fell; Gath, which, in the reign of Joash, had been wrested by Hazael of Syria, and made the starting-point of his incursion into Judah (2 Kings 12:17); Jabneh (Joshua 15:11), afterwards Jamnia, and about nine miles to the northeast of it, and three miles from the sea, Ashdod. It was probably owing to the importance of this strong town, which commanded the road from Egypt, that the sacred text specially mentions this district as one in which the king “built cities” (2 Chronicles 26:6). The general policy seems wisely to have been not to destroy nor depopulate the Philistine cities, but to render them harmless by breaking down their fortifications, and founding by their side throughout the Philistine territory, cities, inhabited no doubt by Judean colonists. And from Philistia the expedition naturally extended to, and reduced to submission, the Arab tribe to the south “in Gur-baal” and “the Meunim” (or Meunites). 7On this tribe and the confederacy generally, compare Vol. 6. It seems to me likely, that even if Gur-Baal is not identical with Gerar, about three hours to the south-west of Gaza (see the Targ.), it must be sought in that neighborhood. From Philistia in the S.W. evidently a line of defense is drawn to the extreme S.E, the territory of Ammon. Near Gerar—the localization of which is not, however, absolutely certain, opens the wady which, starting from Hebron, stretches down to Beersheba.BHOTV7 69.2

    We have now probably reached the period when either luxury and corruption had so demoralized Israel as to render it incapable of resisting the extending power of Judah, or else the government of Jeroboam II. had become paralyzed. For although the subdual of the Philistines and the other tribes to the south and south-east explains the statement that “the name” here, presumably, the authority of Uzziah “went to the going down into Egypt,” more is implied in the notice that “the Ammonites gave gifts.” This tribute imposed on Ammon evidently presupposes the occupation by Uzziah of the intervening trans-Jordanic territory belonging to Israel. 8Possibly Hosea 5:10 may contain an allusion to this, although perhaps more likely to events in the reign of Jotham (comp. 2 Chronicles 27:5).BHOTV7 70.1

    And its possession seems implied in the further notice (2 Chronicles 26:10), that the herds of Uzziah pastured “in the low country,” that is, on the rich Philistine downs by the Mediterranean (1 Chronicles 27:28), and “in the plain,” that is, on the wide grazing lands east of Jordan, in the ancient possession of Reuben (Deuteronomy 3:10; 4:43; and Joshua 13.).BHOTV7 70.2

    But by far the most important undertaking of the reign of Uzziah was the restoration and the fortification of the northern wall of Jerusalem, which had been broken down in the time of Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:23). Drawing an almost straight line along the north of the ancient city, Uzziah built three towers: “at the lower gate,” in the north-western comer of the city, whence the wall slopes slightly southwards, and towards the west; at “the valley-gate,” the present Jaffa gate; and lastly, at the opposite extremity of the northern wall (and again slightly south), to protect the so-called “horse gate” (Nehemiah 3:28; Jeremiah 31:40), where the northern wall forms to the east “a turning” or angle, whence it runs southwards (comp. Nehemiah 3:19, 20, 24, 25). Thus, as the “upper city” had, besides that just mentioned, not any other gate towards the west, nor yet any to the south, the entrance into the city was defended on the north, west, south, and at its north-eastern angle. Moreover, these forts were armed with new and powerful engines for projecting arrows and great stones upon any besieging host (2 Chronicles 26:15). Lastly, in accordance with all this, we read of a re-organization of the army, “according to the number of their enrollment (mustering) by the hand of Jeiel, the scribe, and Maaseiah, the officer (superintendent?), under the hand (direction) of Hananiah one of the king’s captains” (2 Chronicles 26:11). The levy was again made in accordance with earliest national custom—although in even more systematic manner than before. Under two thousand six hundred “heads” or “chiefs of houses,” “mighty men of valor,” an army of not less than 307,500 men was gathered, and completely equipped by the king—the heavy infantry being furnished with shields, cuirasses, and helmets, the light infantry with bows and “stones for slings.” 9So, and not as in the A.V. “slings to cast stones.” The armament was that common to the nations of antiquity.BHOTV7 70.3

    This specially indicates the completeness of the armament, which, this time, was not only furnished by the central authority, but with such care that even the slings and the stones generally picked up by the men were served out to the troops. 10We purposely omit reference to the Assyrian inscription, which records an attempted alliance between Hamath and nineteen cities of the district, and Azriyahu—Azariah or Uzziah (Schrader, V. 5, pp. 217-227). It is quite possible that in their revolt from Assyria these cities may have sought an alliance with Uzziah, into which, however, that monarch did not enter. But the reference to Uzziah in the boastful record by Tiglath-pileser of this Syrian coalition is too shadowy to admit, in our view, any certain inference (comp. Nowack, Assyr. Bab. Inschr. p. 27, Note 8). Are we to regard the introduction of the name of Azriyahu as meaning literally that monarch, or only in a general sense as referring to him in his successors—just as Omri is introduced in the inscriptions? Again, are we to regard the reference as indicating a strictly historical event? This seems scarcely possible. Or is it a general reference to, or inference from, a later policy—or does it express a suspicion, or is it only a boast? On the Assyrian chronology, in its bearing on that of Scripture, we purposely forbear entering for reasons previously indicated. An attempt at conciliation of the two chronologies (by Oppert), see at the close of Hommel, Abriss d. Bab. Ass. u. Isr. Gesch. Comp. also H. Brandes, Abh. zur Gesch. d. Orients im Alterth.BHOTV7 71.1

    In these circumstances we do not wonder that the warlike fame of the king “went forth unto far,” although we specially note how carefully the sacred text throughout emphasizes the Divine help extended to Uzziah in each part of his undertakings. Nor was the internal prosperity of the realm less marked. We have already seen how the reoccupation of Elath led to a revival of shipping and commerce which must have brought wealth to the country. Similarly, the king took a deep interest in agriculture. In the mountains of Judah the ancient terraces were repaired for the culture of the vine; in the more flat portions, as in the district of Carmel (1 Samuel 15:12; 25:2, 5), agriculture was carried on; whilst, alike in “the wilderness” of Judah, in “the low country” of the Philistine downs, and in the rich “plain” across the Jordan, numerous flocks and herds browsed—provision and security for the operations of “husbandry” being afforded by hewing out many cisterns and building watch-towers (2 Chronicles 26:10).BHOTV7 71.2

    It has previously been stated that this was the flourishing period of prophetism in Israel. This perhaps the more, because now the last warning voices were raised among a people sunk in idolatry and corruption, and nigh to judgment. From the prophetic allusions the state of matters in Judah seems, at least during the first period of this reign, to have been somewhat better. But here also, alike owing to increasing prosperity and to success, “pride” and its resultant vices, soon became apparent (Amos 2:4; Hosea 5:5, 14; comp. also Isaiah 2:5, etc.; 3:12, 15; 7:10-13; 28:7-10).BHOTV7 72.1

    This chiefly on the part of the king himself. In the expressive language of Holy Scripture, “when he was strong his heart was lifted up unto destruction”—that is, until he did that which was wrongful and destructive. Intolerant of any power in the land but his own, he sought to combine the chief functions of the priesthood with those of royalty. 11Some critics have endeavored to maintain that, in this, Uzziah only aimed to act as David and Solomon had done, and to reassert the ancient royal right of chief conduct of the religious services. But there is absolutely not a tittle of evidence that either David or Solomon ever arrogated to themselves any strictly priestly functions, least of all that about to be mentioned.BHOTV7 72.2

    The holiest service of the Temple was when the incense was offered on the golden altar within the Holy Place. It symbolized the offering of Israel’s worship by the great High Priest. Regardless of the express Divine ordinance (Exodus 30:7, 27; Numbers 18:1-7), Uzziah penetrated into the Holy Place to arrogate to himself this holy function. In vain Azariah, “the chief priest” (2 Chronicles 26:17, 18), and with him eighty other brave men, no doubt priests of “the course” then on service, sought to arrest the king. Their remonstrance, really their warning, that the issue would be other than his pride had anticipated, only served to incite the wrath of the king. Such utter misunderstanding and perversion alike of the priestly functions in their deepest meaning, and of the royal office in its higher object—and that from motives of pride—must bring instant and signal judgment. While yet the censer with its burning coals was in his hand, and looks and words of wrath on his face and on his lips, in sight of the priesthood, he was smitten with what was regarded as pre-eminently and directly the stroke of God’s own Hand (comp. Numbers 12:9, 10; 2 Kings 5:27). There, “beside the altar of incense,” the plague-spot of leprosy appeared on his forehead.BHOTV7 72.3

    Hastily the assembled priests thrust him, whom God had so visibly smitten, from the Holy Place, lest the presence of the leper should defile the sanctuary. Nay himself, terror-stricken, hastened thence. So the king, whose heart had been lifted up to the utter forgetfulness of the help hitherto given him by Jehovah until he dared the uttermost sacrilege, descended living into the grave in the very moment of his greatest pride. Till death released him he was a leper, dwelling outside the city, separated—“in a house of sickness”—or, as others have rendered the expression, with perhaps greater probability, in “a house of separation” (comp. Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2; 2 Kings 7:3) Cut off from access to the house of the Lord, where he had impiously sought to command, and debarred from all intercourse with men, the kingdom was administered by Jotham, his son—for how long a period before the death of Uzziah it is impossible to determine. His punishment followed him even into the grave. For, although he was “buried with his fathers,” it was “in the field of the burial which belonged to the kings,” probably the burying ground of the members of the royal family; he was not laid in the sepulcher where the kings of Judah rested; “for they said, He is a leper.” 12The view here taken is that of Rashi and other Rabbinical commentators.BHOTV7 73.1

    Of the record of his deeds by Isaiah, to which the sacred text refers (2 Chronicles 26:2), no portion has been preserved. Although the activity of the prophet began during the reign of Uzziah (Isaiah 1:1; 6:1), yet, considering that it extended into that of Hezekiah, Isaiah must have been still young, 13Some critics have suggested that he was then only about twenty years of age. when the leprous king died. Jewish legend has fabled much about the stroke that descended on the sacrilegious king. In his clumsy manner of attempting to account for the directly Divine by natural causes, Josephus 14Ant. 9. 10, 4. connects the sudden leprosy of the king with that earthquake (Amos 1:1) of which the terrible memory so lingered in the popular memory as almost to form an era in their history (Zechariah 14:4, 5).BHOTV7 74.1

    In that earthquake, which Josephus describes, he tells us: “a rent was made in the Temple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king’s face, insomuch that the leprosy seized upon him immediately.” Other Jewish writers strangely identify the death of Uzziah referred to in Isaiah 6:1, with the living death of his leprosy, and the earthquake with the solemn scene there pictured. Yet this application of theirs is certainly true when they rank Uzziah with those “who attained not what they sought, and from whom was taken that which they had” (Ber. R. 20).BHOTV7 74.2