Good morning! Throughout these two books, the Chronicler has never felt shy about passing judgment on the subjects of these chapters. Because of their rejection or embrace of idols, rulers are either GOOD or BAD, seldom in between. However, today three of the four kings we hear about in 2 Chronicles 25-28 break the mold of being one or the other. Their stories help us understand how even “black/white” thinkers can start to view human nature and leadership with a bit more nuance.
The characteristic treatment we’ve come to expect is what we get at the end of this passage, chapter 28. Ahaz is an abject failure of a king, an equal-opportunity worshipper who even practiced the child sacrifice that was a regular occurrence in other Semitic cultures. He sucks at leading his people, loses battles on all fronts, pays ransom to avoid invasion by Assyria, and grows even more eccentrically idolatrous in his older age. You can almost hear a blistering “Good riddance!” when the chapter concludes with his death. This one was easy for the Chronicler to categorize. File under “B”—Bad.
The three kings before Ahaz require more nuance though. They’re on a righteousness spectrum, though their exact placement varies from one to the next. Amaziah in chapter 25 lies midway between good king and bad, doing what is right though not with a “true heart”. He follows the letter of Mosaic law regarding treatment of Hebrews, but leads a savage execution of Edomites even after they’ve been conquered. His worship of Edomite gods doesn’t go over well, and he falls into years of (deserved) misfortune before he’s killed by folks in his own hometown, Jerusalem.
Teenage Uzziah starts off well at the beginning of his 52-year-reign, but then success goes to his head. Early on he makes a name for himself with wise care for Judah and defense against external foes (embracing new innovations such as catapults). As a result—and perhaps here like King Saul—Uzziah thinks he can do whatever he wants, but finds out the hard way that he doesn’t have free reign over the temple. Because of the leprosy which covers him when he barges into the temple, Uzziah lives and dies separated from the society which he made strong.
Jotham (Uzziah’s son and successor) is closest to fully righteous among these three, but even he doesn’t earn full marks because he fails to change the corrupt practices of the people. He does win militarily and earns Judah years of ransom from the Ammonites. However, he dies relatively young (typically a sign of divine disfavor), and we don’t hear why.
In the gradations between “saint” and “sinner” extended to these three monarchs, the Chronicler is adjusting theology somewhat to fit reality (though when Ahaz does so poorly the writer throws the book of judgment at him). I find it refreshing to read slightly more measured evaluations of these characters and their legacy, because it seems truer to human nature. Success or failure, faithful or sinful—these are more situational, subjective and messy than one might wish for the purposes of abstract theology. I’m glad that God doesn’t give up on even the worst scoundrels, and requires confession from even exemplary rulers like King David. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Chronicles 29-31. Thanks for reading!