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The Thistle and the Leper

J Gibson, Derby

Amaziah the Thistle (2 Kings 14.1-20; 2 Chr 25)

Amaziah’s time in office was littered with spiritual failure. He had a cruel streak and an innate tendency towards revenge that was completely contrary to the New Testament exhortation, "avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath" (Rom 12.19). It was, therefore, appropriate for his imperfect reign to begin and end with bloodshed. Both he and his father were assassinated (2 Chr 24.25; 25.25-28).

Amaziah tolerated Judah’s offering of sacrifices on the high places (2 Kings 14.4) which, although common practice during the period of the kings, violated God’s command for a single site of worship (Deut 12.5-32). Amaziah "sought after the gods of Edom" (2 Chr 25.20) and, in the purpose of God, pride ultimately led to his downfall. Nevertheless, God still found some good in Amaziah and, although he did not have the perfect heart of King David (2 Chr 25.2), he "did according to all things as Joash his father did" (Deut 24.16; 2 Kings 14.3,5,6; 2 Chr 25.3,4). This was "wise handling of an emotionally-charged situation" and an unusual move at a time when "most ancient kings would have wiped out the entire family of an assassin to prevent further retaliation".1

Amaziah never seemed to grasp the importance of separation from the ungodly northern tribes, even when it was pointed out to him by God’s prophet (2 Chr 25.7). Edom had previously revolted (2 Kings 8.22), and, intending to rectify this situation, Amaziah mustered a well-organised army of 300,000 men who could handle spear and shield (2 Chr 25.5). This small number, in comparison to the days of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 17.13-19), was probably what prompted Amaziah to hire "a hundred thousand mighty men of valour out of Israel for a hundred talents of silver" (2 Chr 25.6). The man of God brought out three timeless truths to Amaziah. First, separation from the ungodly is of the utmost importance. Just as "the Lord [was] not with Israel" (2 Chr 25.7), neither is He with the unbelievers of any generation. And for this reason Christians must maintain a clear distinction between themselves and the unsaved (2 Cor 6.14). Second, since "God hath power to help, and to cast down" (2 Chr 25.8), submission to the revealed will of God is an essential prerequisite to spiritual success. If Amaziah wilfully disregarded the prophet’s warning to separate himself from the hired northern troops God would make him fall before the enemy (2 Chr 25.8). In a similar fashion, obedience to the Scriptures is needed if Christian service will truly prosper. Thirdly, in response to Amaziah’s concern over the lost one hundred talents, the man of God reassured him that "The Lord is able to give thee much more than this" (2 Chr 25.9). Our God is no man’s debtor. He abundantly recompenses every sacrifice His people make on His account. As the Lord Jesus told Peter, "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Mt 19.29).

Amaziah quickly turned to idolatry. He defeated Edom (2 Chr 25.11) and took Selah their capital city (2 Kings 14.7). He harshly executed 10,000 Edomite captives (2 Chr 25.12). And then, for no apparent reason, his heart was drawn after the gods of Edom. His idolatry stirred up God’s anger, and He sent a prophet to expose Amaziah’s folly: "Why hast thou sought after the gods of the people, which could not deliver their own people out of thine hand?" (2 Chr 25.15; see Ps 115.4-8; Is 44.9-20). However, this time Amaziah disregarded and silenced God’s messenger (2 Chr 25.16). Keeping in mind just how easily men can turn to idolatry, and the hardening affect that it has on men’s hearts, let every believer take heed to the Apostle John’s exhortation: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5.21).

True to the proverb, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Pr 16.18), Amaziah’s pride and thirst for vengeance got the better of him. Having crushed the Edomites, he thought "of himself more highly than he ought to think" (Rom 12.3), and set his sights on avenging the angry reprisals of the Israelite army (2 Chr 25.10,13). But Amaziah was no match for Jehoash, the grandson of intensely violent Jehu the son of Nimshi. Jehoash’s disparaging comparison of Amaziah to a conceited thistle which was trampled on by a bypassing wild beast emphasised Amaziah’s foolish arrogance and his puny military capacity compared to the North (2 Chr 25.18). Amaziah’s rejection of the warning ended in humiliating defeat, with Jerusalem’s defensive wall being broken, the temple treasures plundered, and hostages taken (2 Kings 14.11-14; 2 Chr 25.20-22). Let us be careful to avoid the pitfall of pride that Amaziah fell headlong into and rather "be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (1 Pet 5.5).

Uzziah the Leper (2 Kings 15.1-7; 2 Chr 26; Zech 14.5)

Uzziah came to power when only 16 years of age. This early start, as well as a lengthy 52 year reign, gave him tremendous opportunity to be something for God (2 Chr 26.3). And throughout much of his life he was. Under the supervision of godly Zechariah, "who had understanding in the visions of God", Uzziah sought God (2 Chr 26.5). The fact that Zechariah was able, for many years, to guide the young king in the right direction teaches us never to underestimate the influence of one godly life. Although, as with many of the kings, Uzziah failed to eradicate the high places, he emulated his father’s good points (2 Chr 15.3,4) – showing the value of good role models (Phil 3.17) – and energetically built cities, including the seaport town of Elath (2 Chr 26.2,6). He loved husbandry, and by digging wells and multiplying cattle, husbandmen, and vinedressers, Uzziah developed the agricultural potential of the region (2 Chr 26.10). He also grew in military might and defeated many of Judah’s enemies (2 Cor 26.6-7). He fortified Jerusalem’s walls and "made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal" (2 Chr 26.9,15). His army was organized, well equipped, and strongly led (2 Chr 26.11-14). Uzziah rose to international prominence (2 Chr 26.8,15) and during the major part of his reign, when he knew God’s help (vv.5,7,8,15), his success seemed to know no limits.

But two ominous expressions are built into the Biblical text. Firstly, "as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper" (2 Chr 26.5). And secondly, "he was marvellously helped, till he was strong" (2 Chr 26.15). "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense" (2 Chr 26.16). This action, which was the sole responsibility of the priests – and Jewish kings could not be priests – revealed a proud heart that had grown too big for the Word (2 Chr 26.18); only Christ will finally and legitimately unite the offices of priest and king when "he shall be a priest upon his throne" (Ps 110.1,4; Is 6; Zech 6.13). It was, therefore, of the utmost significance that Isaiah saw Israel’s glorious divine Messiah "sitting upon a throne" as a king, and "his train [filling] the temple" as a priest, in the year that king Uzziah died (Is 6.1; Jn 12.41). God’s priests courageously withstood Uzziah, and God, who had previously stricken Moses’ sister with leprosy for speaking against Moses and aspiring to a position that was not rightfully hers (Num 12.1,2,10), now smote Uzziah. "The leprosy even rose up in his forehead" (2 Chr 26.19,20). This ensured that everyone saw it and that no one, including the king, was left in any doubt that he had to leave the sanctuary. It also emphasized that Uzziah could never be a priest because part of the high priest’s attire was "a plate of pure gold…grave upon…HOLINESS TO THE LORD…upon his forehead" (Ex 28.36-38).

Just as some sins can irreversibly exclude us from certain spiritual privileges, Uzziah’s leprosy prevented him from ever returning to the temple or again sitting on the throne of his kingdom. His story, which is full of practical lessons, stands a solemn warning against proud thoughts: "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10.12). Rather, let us be humble and content in our positions of service, and never forcibly take over roles for which we are not fitted. In this way we will be able to build good things into the local assembly and cultivate it as a fruitful field (1 Cor 3.9). The local assembly also needs protection, and the bravery shown by God’s priests in withstanding Uzziah should inspire all Christian leaders to be "valiant for the truth" (Jer 9.3). In closing, and not forgetting that during the majority of his reign Uzziah wholeheartedly sought the Lord, may we "Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore" (Ps 105.4).

Concluded.

1 Davis JJ, Whitcomb JC, ISRAEL, from Conquest to Exile. (Baker Book House, 1992), p.440.

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