2 Kings 15 – Unstable Monarchy in Israel
A. The reign of Azariah (Uzziah) over Judah.
1. (1-4) A summary of his reign.
In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, became king. He was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done, except that the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.
a. He did what was right in the sight of the LORD: The reign of Azariah (also called Uzziah in 2 Kings 15:13 and many other places in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah) was largely characterized by the good he did in the sight of the LORD. His godliness was rewarded with a long reign of 52 years.
i. Azariah came to the throne in a difficult era: “Following the tragic events that brought King Amaziah’s reign to an end, Jerusalem was in disarray, a major section of its protective wall destroyed, its temple and palace emptied of their treasures, and some of its inhabitants taken away to Israel as hostages.” (Dilday)
ii. 2 Chronicles 26 tells us much more about the successful reign of Uzziah (Azariah):
· He began his reign when he was only 16 years old (26:3).
· He reigned during the ministry of Zechariah the prophet (26:5).
· He defeated the Philistines and took many of their cities, and also kept the Ammonites in tribute (26:6-8).
· He was internationally famous as a strong king (26:8).
· He was an ambitious builder and skilled in agriculture (26:9-10). “He probably gave special attention to the tillage of the soil because of the prophecies of Hosea and Amos concerning the scarcity about to come. (See Hosea 2:9; 4:3; 9:2; Amos 1:2; 4:6-9; 5:16-19).” (Knapp)
· He built up and organized the army, introducing several new items of military technology (26:11-15).
iii. Knapp suggests that Azariah became king in an unusual manner: “He seems to have come by the throne, not in the way of ordinary succession, but by the direct choice of the people. The princes had been destroyed by the Syrians toward the close of his grandfather Joash’s reign (2 Chronicles 24:23), leaving the people a free hand.”
b. Except that the high places were not removed: As with Jehoash (2 Kings 12:3) and Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), the reforms of Azariah did not reach so far as to remove these traditional places of sacrifice to the LORD.
i. “The apparent compromise is indicative of a basic spiritual shallowness that was to surface in the prophecies of the great writing prophets of the eighth century b.c.” (Patterson and Austel)
ii. “This, if it did not loose, yet it lessened his crown of glory.” (Trapp)
2. (5-7) The sad end of his reign.
Then the LORD struck the king, so that he was a leper until the day of his death; so he dwelt in an isolated house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the royal house, judging the people of the land. Now the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? So Azariah rested with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jotham his son reigned in his place.
a. The LORD struck the king, so that he was a leper until the day of his death: 2 Chronicles 26 also tells us of the downfall of Azariah, who was marvelously helped till he became strong (2 Chronicles 26:15). The Chronicler goes on: But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense (2 Chronicles 26:16). The priests tried to stop him, but the king insisted on forcing his way into the temple to offer incense.
i. Azariah violated what had become a general principle in God’s dealing with Israel: that no king should also be a priest, and that the offices of prophet, priest, and king should not be combined in one man – until the Messiah, who fulfilled all three offices.
ii. “His great power fostered such pride and haughtiness that about 750 b.c. he sought to add to his vast power by usurping the prerogatives of the sacred priesthood.” (Patterson and Austel)
b. He dwelt in an isolated house: Azariah came into the temple as an arrogant king, and he left as a humbled leper. Indeed, he hurried to get out, because the LORD had struck him (2 Chronicles 26:20).
i. “It was a fearful stroke from God. Death was the actual penalty enjoined by the law for his crime (Numbers 18:7), and leprosy was really that – a living death, prolonged and intensified.” (Knapp)
c. So Azariah rested with his fathers: The death of Azariah (again, also known as Uzziah) contributed to the call of the prophet Isaiah: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD sitting on a throne (Isaiah 6:1).
i. Considering the reign of Azariah:
· He began his reign at only 16 years of age.
· He reigned for 52 years.
· Overall, he was a good and strong king who led Israel to many military victories, he was an energetic builder and planner.
· Despite all this, Azariah had a tragic end.
ii. Therefore, when Isaiah wrote that he was called in the year King Uzziah died, he said a lot. It is to say, “In the year a great and wise king died.” But it is also to say, “In the year a great and wise king who had a tragic end died.” Isaiah had great reason to be discouraged and disillusioned at the death of King Uzziah, because a great king had passed away, and because his life ended tragically. Yet despite it all, he saw the enthroned LORD God who was greater than any earthly king.
B. Five kings over the kingdom of Israel.
This section of 2 Kings 15 begins the story of five kings over Israel. “This chapter anticipates the final overthrow of this kingdom of the tribes. It describes the corruption and disorganization that made them the easy prey of Assyria.” (Meyer)
1. (8-12) The short, evil reign of Zechariah.
In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, as his fathers had done; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin. Then Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him, and struck and killed him in front of the people; and he reigned in his place. Now the rest of the acts of Zechariah, indeed they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel. This was the word of the LORD which He spoke to Jehu, saying, “Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.”And so it was.
a. Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months: The reign of Zechariah was both short and wicked, and he continued in the state-sponsored idolatry begun by Jeroboam.
i. “There appears to be (from a comparison of dates) a period unaccounted for, of about eleven years, between Jeroboam’s death and the beginning of his son Zechariah’s reign… Anarchy probably prevailed during the above-noted interregnum.” (Knapp)
b. Then Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him, and struck and killed him in front of the people: Zechariah was so despised by his own people that Shallum was able to do this. This was the end of the dynasty of Jehu, which began with such potential but ended (as God had foretold) in great darkness.
i. “God keepeth promise with his foes: shall he fail his friends?” (Trapp)
ii. “The death of this last king of the dynasty of Jehu saw the end of the Northern Kingdom proper. In the last twenty years six rulers were to follow each other, but only one was to die naturally. Anarchy, rivalry and regicide led to terminal bloodshed which fulfilled Hosea’s prophecies (Hosea 1:4).” (Wiseman)
iii. “Half a dozen ‘pseudo-kings’ would reign in rapid succession, one murderer replacing another on the throne, as the nation tottered on the brink of anarchy.” (Dilday)
2. (13-16) The even briefer reign of Shallum.
Shallum the son of Jabesh became king in the thirty-ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah; and he reigned a full month in Samaria. For Menahem the son of Gadi went up from Tirzah, came to Samaria, and struck Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and killed him; and he reigned in his place. Now the rest of the acts of Shallum, and the conspiracy which he led, indeed they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel. Then from Tirzah, Menahem attacked Tiphsah, all who were there, and its territory. Because they did not surrender, therefore he attacked it. All the women there who were with child he ripped open.
a. Shallum… reigned a full month: The dynasty of Jehu lasted four generations; the dynasty of Shallum lasted four weeks.
i. “The great prosperity and expansion under Jeroboam II appears to have corrupted the people and caused them to give free reign to their evil desires and violence. Those in authority, instead of checking this spirit of lawlessness, found pleasure in it. ‘They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies’ (Hosea 7:3).” (Knapp)
b. Now the rest of the acts of Shallum: The writer of 2 Kings had no moral comment to make on the brief reign of Shallum. Perhaps he did not reign long enough to show himself either good or bad. Certainly, the violence that marked both his rise to and fall from power shows that he did not reign with the blessing of God.
i. “Israel was now practically under a military despotism, downtrodden and oppressed, and yet sinning still with a high hand against God.” (Morgan)
c. Menham attacked Tiphsah… Because they did not surrender, therefore he attacked it. All the women there who were with child he ripped open: This act of horrible brutality was commanded by Menham – who became the next king of Israel. This shows the depths of brutality and ungodliness of the times.
i. “The action by Menahem against the inhabitants of Tiphsah is unparalleled for brutality by any Israelite. Here it may mark the increasing influence of the surrounding nations. It was a foreign practice inflicted on the Israelites themselves by Aram (2 Kings 8:12), Ammon (Amos 1:13) and Assyria (Hosea 13:8).” (Wiseman)
3. (17-22) A summary of the reign of Menahem.
In the thirty-ninth year of Azariah king of Judah, Menahem the son of Gadi became king over Israel, and reigned ten years in Samaria. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin. Pul king of Assyria came against the land; and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to strengthen the kingdom under his control. And Menahem exacted the money from Israel, from all the very wealthy, from each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and did not stay there in the land. Now the rest of the acts of Menahem, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? So Menahem rested with his fathers. Then Pekahiah his son reigned in his place.
a. Menahem the son of Gadi became king over Israel: His reign was typical of the kings of Israel in that it was both evil and a continuation of the state-sponsored idolatry of Jeroboam.
b. Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to strengthen the kingdom under his control: Menahem put the kingdom of Israel under tribute to the Assyrian Empire. He purchased the backing of the Assyrian King with a large amount of money raised from the wealthy in his kingdom, and therefore ruled with the strength of Assryia supporting him.
i. “The burden of the levy fell upon the rich, which needs not excite much sympathy when we learn from the prophets Amos and Micah how their riches were obtained. See Amos 4:1; 5:11,12; 8:4-6; Micah 2:2; 6:10-12.” (Knapp)
ii. “The Assyrian policy was initially to leave a state on its borders independent, though requiring a substantial annual payment for this privilege. Thereafter the state might be made a vassal, which entailed having an Assyrian official at court as a watchdog on the ruler’s attitudes.” (Wiseman)
4. (23-26) The two-year reign of Pekahiah.
In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekahiah the son of Menahem became king over Israel in Samaria, and reigned two years. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin. Then Pekah the son of Remaliah, an officer of his, conspired against him and killed him in Samaria, in the citadel of the king’s house, along with Argob and Arieh; and with him were fifty men of Gilead. He killed him and reigned in his place. Now the rest of the acts of Pekahiah, and all that he did, indeed they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
a. Pekahiah the son of Menahem became king over Israel: The previous two kings of Israel (before Menahem) did not reign successfully enough to pass the kingdom on to a son or another dynastic descendant. Menahem ruled well enough to pass the kingdom to Pekahiah.
b. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin: The familiar refrain of this indictment against the kings of Israel is repeated regarding Pekahiah.
i. “Why should Jeroboam so frequently be called ‘the son of Nebat’? Why should the father be for ever pilloried with the son, except that he was in some way responsible for, and implicated in, his sins? There was a time when perhaps Nebat might have restrained the growing boy, or led him to the true worship of God; or perhaps his parental influence and example were deadly in their effect.” (Meyer)
c. He killed him and reigned in his place: The blessing of God was obviously not on Pekahiah, whose reign ended with assassination after only two years. This was the end of another brief dynasty, and the start of a new one.
i. An officer of his: “The insurrection originated with the king’s own personal bodyguard.” (Patterson and Austel)
5. (27-31) The 20-year reign of Pekah.
In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah became king over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin. In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria. Then Hoshea the son of Elah led a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and struck and killed him; so he reigned in his place in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah. Now the rest of the acts of Pekah, and all that he did, indeed they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
a. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD: The kings, families, and dynasties ruling Israel changed quickly during this period. Yet there was an amazing continuity of evil through these dynasties. Each was evil, and each continued the state-sponsored idolatry in Israel.
i. For chronologers, the 20 year reign of Pekah is difficult to place. It perhaps includes time that Pekah ruled as an anti-government rebel in certain regions of Israel.
b. Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took: This Assyrian king, unlike in the days of Menahem, would not be paid off by the king of Israel. He came and took some of the best land of the kingdom of Israel, including much of the northern part of the kingdom.
i. “With the loss of Galilee and Gilead and with the presence of Assyrian troops all along Israel’s western frontier, it seemed evident that Pekah’s anti-Assyrian policy had brought Israel to the point of extinction.” (Patterson and Austel)
ii. “From 1 Chronicles 5:26 we learn that Pul and Tiglath-pileser, kings of Assyria, carried away into captivity the two tribes of Reuben, and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh; all that belonged to Israel on the other side of the Jordan. These were never restored to Israel.” (Clarke)
iii. “These were dark days of Israel, her territory now reduced to a tiny kingdom only thirty miles wide by forty miles long.” (Dilday)
c. He carried them captive to Assyria: This became an official state policy of the Assyrian Empire. Upon conquering a land, if necessary, they relocated by force the best and the brightest of the conquered nation, bringing them to Assyria.
i. “This first reference to the practice of removing leaders and selected experts into exile shows that the next step had now been taken towards making Israel a vassal-state.” (Wiseman)
d. Hoshea the son of Elah led a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and struck and killed him: This was another king and another dynasty to end with assassination, as a powerful demonstration of the great instability in the Northern Kingdom.
i. “Josephus says that Hoshea was ‘a friend’ of Pekah’s (Antiquities ix.13)… But watch as he might, his very friend in whom he trusted became, in the ordering of God, his slayer; so impossible it is for the wicked to escape their merited retribution.” (Knapp)
ii. “He slew in his ‘fierce anger’ one hundred thousand Jews in one day (2 Chronicles 28:6); and God requited him in kind; for as he had so treacherously shed man’s blood, by man was his blood also treacherously shed.” (Knapp)
C. Jotham’s reign over Judah.
1. (32-36) A summary of the reign of Jotham.
In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, Jotham the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha the daughter of Zadok. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD; he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. However the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. He built the Upper Gate of the house of the LORD. Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
a. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD: This stands in strong contrast to the evil done by the previously mentioned kings of Israel. Among the kings of Judah, there were good and godly kings.
b. He did according to all that his father Uzziah had done: The pattern is seen in both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, where the son reigns as his father had before him. While this is not concretely predetermined, certainly this is a principle that shows us great influence that a father has on a son.
i. “He also turned his attention to urban planning, constructing cities in the highlands of Judah that, together with a system of towers and fortification in the wooded areas, could serve both economic and military purposes.” (Patterson and Austel)
c. He built the Upper Gate of the house of the LORD: This was always a positive sign in Judah. When kings and leaders were concerned about the house of the LORD, it reflected some measure of spiritual revival.
i. In particular, it seems that Jotham rebuilt the link between the temple and the palace. “He wished free access from his own house to that of the Lord. He would strengthen the link between the two houses – keep his line of communication open (to use a military figure) with the source of his supplies of strength and wisdom. This is one of the secrets of his prosperity and power.” (Knapp)
ii. His father Azariah (Uzziah) misunderstood the link between the royal house and the house God, demanding priestly authority (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Many kings before him wanted no link between the royal house and the house of God. Jotham understood that he was a king and not a priest, yet he wanted a good, open link between the palace and the temple.
iii. 2 Chronicles 27:6 says, So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the LORD his God. The building of this link between the palace and the temple was one of the chief ways that he prepared his way before the LORD. “That high gate between the palace and the temple was better than a Chinese wall around his kingdom. It is in communion with God that real prosperity and power is found.” (Knapp)
iv. “As Chronicles shows, Jotham strove to defend his small territory, and his increasing power was attributed to his steadfast way of life before God.” (Wiseman)
v. “Jotham is the only one of all the Hebrew kings, from Saul down, against whom God has nothing to record. In this his character is in beautiful accord with his name, Jehovah-perfect.” (Knapp)
2. (37-38) Judah begins to be chastened for their partial obedience.
In those days the LORD began to send Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah. So Jotham rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David his father. Then Ahaz his son reigned in his place.
a. In those days the LORD began to send Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah: Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writer of 2 Kings tells us that it was the hand of the LORD that sent these foreign rulers who troubled Judah.
b. The LORD began to send: This was the beginning. If Judah and her kings responded to these chastening events in the right way, God would take note. If they hardened their hearts and rejected the correction of God, He would take note of that as well.
i. “During Jotham’s reign, the combined forces of King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel began their invasion of Judah, but the full impact of these military assaults was not felt until Jotham’s son became king.” (Dilday)
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