This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

II Chronicles: Ahaz

Ahaz became king at a time of great potential for Judah. Under Ahaz's godly father, Judah had been blessed with stability, growth, and victory. Ahaz had witnessed a consistently godly father and had observed the resulting blessing. While these advantages did not guarantee that Ahaz would follow God, it would seem that the residual benefits would linger for several years even if Ahaz strayed from God.

What happened instead was a series of defeats and reversals so overwhelming that it is hard to imagine how any country could fall so far so fast. Ahaz was king for only sixteen years, yet those few years were packed with failures and disasters. Each catastrophe was so severe that it rivaled or exceeded anything that had previously occurred in Judah's history.

Ahaz suffered five distinct and disastrous losses during his brief reign. First, he was defeated by Aram, with a "great number of captives" taken (II Chronicles 28:5). Second, he was defeated by Israel, "who inflicted him with heavy casualties" (28:5). In that defeat, 120,000 of Judah's soldiers were killed in a single day. If similar in size to previous armies, approximately one-third of the soldiers were lost. Additionally, the prince and two very high-ranking leaders were killed, and 200,000 women and children were taken captive (28:7-8).

The third defeat came at the hands of the Edomites, who attacked and took more captives (28:17). Fourth, the Philistines attacked and took over at least six cities with surrounding villages (28:18). Fifth, Assyria, which Ahaz had sought as an ally, came instead as a foe. Even when Ahaz presented riches from the palace and the temple as tribute, Assyria continued to afflict Judah rather than help (28:16, 20-21).

The extent of the losses was at least as significant as the sheer number of them. After the years of strength and success under Ahaz's father, Judah suffered tremendous losses - of life, of citizens to captivity, of land area and cities, and of riches. It is no wonder that the people did not want to bury this colossal loser with the previous kings (28:27).

God leaves no doubt about how things could have changed so quickly and so dramatically. "The LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Aram" because of his wickedness (28:5). Israel prevailed over Judah "because [Judah] had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers" (28:6). The prophet Obed said that Israel was victorious because God "was angry with Judah" (28:9). The Edomites and Philistines were successful in their conquests because "the LORD humbled Judah because of Ahaz" (28:19). His idol worship "became the downfall of him" (28:23). The wickedness of Ahaz "provoked the LORD . . . to anger" (28:25).

Ahaz received God's intense judgment because of his intense wickedness. In what is recorded, Ahaz's level of wickedness rose above any of the kings before him. The man actively promoted evil and actively demoted God. From the beginning, he made idols and offered incense, which had been done before, but he also burned his sons in the fire, which had not been done before. His sacrifices and high places were widespread and plentiful (28:2-4).

The initial evaluation of Ahaz is that "he did not do right in the sight of the LORD" (28:1). After losses to Aram, Israel, Edom, and Philistia, the Bible states that Ahaz "had brought about a lack of restraint in Judah and was very unfaithful to the LORD" (28:19). His unfaithfulness had intensified, and he was pivotal in causing others to abandon God. After Ahaz lost to Assyria, he became "yet more unfaithful," (28:22) which doesn't even seem possible. He expanded his sacrifices to false gods, he sacrilegiously destroyed the utensils from the temple, and he actually closed the house of God. He further defiled the holy city of Jerusalem by making false altars on every corner, and he aggressively promoted idol worship throughout the entire land (28:24-25).

Ahaz displayed absolute rejection of God, showing no inclination whatsoever toward repentance but rather a deepening pursuit of sin. Even this wicked man was not beyond the scope of God's forgiveness, a concept ironically illustrated by Israel's portion of the story. God used Israel, historically ungodly, as an instrument of judgment against Judah, but Israel took more liberties than God intended. Israel was so consumed with the attack on Judah that they slaughtered 120,000 soldiers and took 200,000 women and children as captives. God considered this to be excessive; Israel's ruthlessness caused "the burning anger of the LORD" to now turn upon them (28:11, 13) instead of Judah.

Amazingly, when the prophet confronted Israel, the soldiers responded humbly to his warning. They clothed, fed, and tended to the captive women and children; then they escorted those captives back to their homes. This humble response turned away God's anger from Israel. The same opportunity was open to Ahaz, but he did not turn his heart toward God.

Ahaz was not beyond seeking help in times of trouble, but he consistently sought it in the wrong places. He sought help from Assyria and from false gods. He was not ashamed to ask for help, he was not reluctant to sacrifice in order to obtain that help, and he was not lazy about pursuing help. He simply would not go to the proper source.

When Ahaz asked Assyria for help, they turned against him instead. When he sought help from the idols, they did nothing. When he expended his money, time, and resources in trying to purchase or obtain help, his investments came up empty. Ahaz would not have received the same responses from God. If Ahaz had shown a fraction of the dedication toward God that he showed toward idols, he would have caught God's attention. God would have turned to him and helped him. God would have accepted the sacrifices of a broken and a contrite heart and would have shown mercy even on this wicked man, if only he had sought God.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

II Chronicles: Jotham

There are some unusual things about King Jotham. His story is short and recounts no major events. There was nothing earth-shattering or cataclysmic about his reign. A history book would summarize his years in a brief and boring paragraph. Jotham is also unusual because the Bible says nothing bad about him. Every statement is positive, with no revelation of any failures, as is the case for other godly kings.

Jotham "did right in the sight of the LORD" (II Chronicles 27:2).  There are no declarations or even implications of anything different. The most predictable statement about Jotham is that he "became mighty because he ordered his ways before the LORD his God" (27:6). This is precisely what a student of II Chronicles would expect - God's blessing on a king who followed Him.

God's blessing was expressed primarily in infrastructure and military terms. Jotham strengthened his country by building. He built a gate for the house of the LORD. He built a wall. He built cities. He built fortresses and towers. In addition to construction, Jotham also prospered militarily. He was victorious over the Ammonites, resulting in large payments of money and crops from Ammon every year.

Those are the sparse details of Jotham's reign. There is nothing dramatic, but clearly God blessed him. While leaders could easily be limited to prospering either at home or abroad, Jotham excelled in both areas. He was able to strengthen the infrastructure at home even while he waged successful wars. Jotham did more than what is specifically recorded; verse 7 refers to "all his wars and his acts." Whatever those multiple wars and acts were, they were done by a man who followed God and in a way that pleased God.

More significant than the specifics of what Jotham did are the specifics of what he did not do. Jotham's surroundings, specifically the people around him, were not perfect. "The people continued acting corruptly" (27:2). Jotham did not yield to public pressure. He continued to do what was right in spite of what was happening around him.

Jotham also had the example of his father to deal with. There was much good in his father, and Jotham did right "according to all that his father Uzziah had done" (27:2). Jotham observed what his father had done well, and he followed that example. Jotham knew where to draw the line, however. His father had made one major error when he entered the temple to offer incense. As closely as Jotham followed his father, he distinctly chose not to follow him in this area where his father had done wrong (27:2).

Jotham had to deal with the influence of those around him, but he did not allow himself to be controlled by them. He continued doing what was right in spite of how the people acted. He followed the example of his godly father, but only as far as his father followed God. The passage is careful to point out the difference and to clarify that Uzziah's failure in entering the temple (which displayed his pride) was not repeated by Jotham, indicating that Jotham was not proud to lift himself up. He did not fall into the weakness of his father. Jotham rose above the wickedness around him and the wrong example he had seen, and he determined to do what was right, no matter what anyone else did.

There is one more unusual aspect about Jotham's reign. This godly king, with nothing negative said about him, ordered his steps before the Lord and received God's blessing. Why then were his life and his reign so short? He reigned only sixteen years and died at age forty-one. This does not seem to fit the pattern of what happened with previous godly kings. Part of the blessing usually included a normal life span, whereas an early death was typically God's judgment.

One possible answer is that God does not always promise a long life. He does not promise to give blessing in the way man expects to see it. God does bless those who follow Him, but that does not necessarily equate to riches and peace and fame. Many men and women have served God faithfully, yet their lives were cut short. While Jotham's life was not lengthy, there is no doubt that God blessed Jotham and did what He desired in his life.

A second possible answer is that Jotham was a godly man in the midst of a corrupt people. Perhaps God delivered Jotham from that wicked atmosphere, taking him home as He did with Enoch. God would have rejoiced to have this rare godly man home with Him.

A third possibility is that God was simply moving His plan forward. The passage specifically mentions the corrupt actions of the people. God had repeatedly predicted His judgment on the people of Judah for their wickedness. There were times that God deliberately delayed that judgment and other times that He deliberately hastened it. If the people were so corrupt under a king that was so upright, perhaps God was removing that godly king whom the people were choosing not to follow. If the people refused to follow a godly man, God could have removed him so that His inevitable plan of justice would not be delayed toward people who deserved it.

From all appearances Jotham seems not to have had much influence. History records no major events. His people did not follow his righteous lead. Where it counted, however, Jotham was just right. He had the testimony before God that he did the right thing. He quietly and consistently followed God through the ordinary tasks of life, regardless of the influences that surrounded him. This inconspicuous king is an exemplary model of faithful godly living. The king who is barely mentioned is worthy of honorable mention indeed.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

II Chronicles: Uzziah

The story of Uzziah is a great success story. He was prosperous in every area of life, and his success shines brightly, rising above what had been seen in Judah for many, many years.

The man was a military giant. He had a reasonably-sized army, smaller than that of many preceding kings. It was, however, "an elite army . . . who could wage war with great power" (II Chronicles 26:13). This army, led by "valiant warriors" (26:12), was well-equipped. The soldiers had "shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows and sling stones" (26:14).

Uzziah's territory was well-protected. He "built towers in Jerusalem" at the gates "and at the corner buttress and fortified them" (26:9). He then "made engines of war invented by skillful men to be on the towers and on the corners for the purpose of shooting arrows and great stones" (26:15). In addition to these formidable machines of warfare in the city, "he built towers in the wilderness" for further protection (26:10).

The preparations of the army and the defenses yielded impressive results. Uzziah "built Eloth and restored it to Judah" (26:2) "He went out and warred against the Philistines" with great success (26:6). He broke down their walls in several cities and even built his own cities within their territory (26:6). He also enjoyed victory over the Arabians and the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to him.

While his military strength was remarkable, the success of Uzziah's kingdom was not limited to that realm. Other resources prospered as well. Uzziah "hewed many cisterns" in the wilderness so that he could properly care for the abundance of his livestock. Additionally, he had agricultural success, with "plowmen and vinedressers" who cared for his "fertile fields" (26:10). His kingdom prospered domestically, and he was able to effectively utilize all sectors of his realm: cities, wilderness, lowland, plain, and hill country.

This military dominance and domestic prosperity did not go unnoticed by surrounding nations. Uzziah "became very strong" in the eyes of other kingdoms, and "his fame extended to the border of Egypt" (26:8). "His fame spread afar" and "he was strong" (26:15).

None of this success happened by accident. Uzziah "did right in the sight of the LORD" (26:4). He sought God, "and as long as he sought the LORD, God prospered him" (26:5). "God helped him" in battle (26:7). In fact, "he was marvelously helped" by God (26:15). God saw Uzziah's heart, and God responded, not in small measure, but with abundant blessing that permeated all of Uzziah's kingdom.

Sadly, Uzziah's success story took a nosedive. "As long as he sought the LORD, God prospered him" (26:5), but the time came when Uzziah stopped seeking. The turning point is linked to the influence of a man named Zechariah; as long as Zechariah lived, Uzziah sought God (26:5). The primary contributing factor to Uzziah's demise, however, was pride.

Uzziah's life was going exceptionally well; he had power, resources, and fame. Everything he did prospered. It seemed that he could not be stopped but just kept progressing toward more and more success. Somewhere in that process, Uzziah's fame went to his head. He forgot that God was the one blessing him. Uzziah began to think of himself as responsible instead, and he became self-important.

"When he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly" (26:16). "He was unfaithful to the LORD his God" (26:16). Uzziah's corruption and unfaithfulness presented themselves in a single rebellious act. He entered into the temple and offered incense. This was no small offense. When King Saul had performed a similar transgression, the kingdom was forever snatched away from his family. It was not Uzziah's place to offer incense, but in his pride, he took it upon himself.

Uzziah was caught in the act and was confronted by eighty-one valiant priests. The priest Azariah declared both the offense and the consequence: "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. . . . You have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the LORD God" (26:18). The days of blessing were over. Perhaps something of Uzziah's life could have been salvaged had he responded humbly. Instead, "he was enraged with the priests" (26:19).

God did not tolerate Uzziah's rebellious pride, but immediately smote him with leprosy. The priests quickly removed Uzziah from the temple, and his life was forever changed. He "was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the LORD" (26:21). As an unclean man, Uzziah's fame and success no longer meant much. He lived the rest of his life in isolation and shame, with his son taking over his duties. At the time of Uzziah's death, his leprosy even prevented him from being buried in the royal tomb.

The beginning and end of Uzziah's life show an extreme contrast, from incredible heights of success to dismal depths of isolation. He went from power and respect to weakness and shame - all because his heart became proud and he stopped seeking God. His people still enjoyed the prosperity and benefits achieved through Uzziah's good years, but Uzziah no longer prospered, nor was he able to fully enjoy the fruits of the previous blessing.

Uzziah became the third king in succession that started out well for God but ended in rebellion and alienation. The Bible does not indicate whether Uzziah was aware of this trend, nor whether he was determined to escape it. The truth is evident, however, that man's efforts and intentions are never sufficient. The ability to live a life of continued blessing is dependent upon a humble heart that continually seeks God's help. Regardless of the height of success, no one ever escapes the danger of falling. Uzziah thought he had gained great position, but in so thinking, he actually ended up losing his position. Success and blessing are all by God's grace.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

II Chronicles: Amaziah

Amaziah didn't have the best heritage. After generations of wickedness, his father had followed God for a while, but it is uncertain whether any of those good years were after Amaziah's birth. Something, however, influenced Amaziah for good. God says that "he did right in the sight of the LORD" (II Chronicles 25:2).

Sadly, the verse does not end there; Amaziah followed God, but "not with a whole heart" (25:2). Frankly, it is difficult to see what Amaziah did that was right. In his recorded history, there is only one event that illustrates his devotion to God. Still God gave the evaluation that Amaziah did right. This would suggest that his following of God was expressed through a general lifestyle rather than major events. Certainly living for God is sometimes evidenced not through dramatic episodes, but simply through ordinary life.

I believe Amaziah's deficiencies in following God can be explained with this truth: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). Because his heart was not fully devoted to God, he did not fear God as he should have, and therefore did not seek God as he needed to. As a result, Amaziah made poor choices based on human reasoning. What he decided to do apart from God's guidance led to defeat and judgment.

Amaziah's first significant act was to kill the men who had killed his father. Although his father had been killed for his wickedness, Amaziah was probably within his authority as king to have those men executed. In the midst of this justice, he acted according to how "it is written in the law in the book of Moses" (25:4). So far, he seems okay.

Next Amaziah gathered an army, which is not unusual. Amaziah intended to fight against Edom. In the process, Amaziah decided that his army was not large enough. In fact, Amaziah did have the smallest army recorded for any of Judah's kings thus far, so it was humanly logical to hire additional soldiers.

Amaziah's mistake was to hire the wrong soldiers. He hired men of Israel, a nation under God's displeasure. God sent a prophet to confront Amaziah with the ironic message that defeat was certain if the extra soldiers were used, but victory was possible without them (25:8). Amaziah heeded God's message by releasing the hired soldiers, and God gave the victory. The mistake was not without consequences, however; the released soldiers were so angered over their dismissal that they attacked some of Judah's cities and killed 3,000 men (25:13).

This story is the clearest indication that Amaziah followed God. He had paid a large sum of non-refundable money when he hired the soldiers. When the prophet confronted him, Amaziah was concerned about the loss of money: "But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the troops of Israel?" (25:9). God assured Amaziah that He was able to handle the finances. In spite of the fact that Amaziah had lost all that money, and in spite of the fact that he also lost 25% of his army, he yielded to God in this matter.

Unfortunately, Amaziah's reign went downhill from this point. After winning the battle against Edom, Amaziah brought Edom's gods back with him and began to worship them. God pointed out the bad logic in this choice to worship gods that had not been capable of defending their own people (25:15). Amaziah further revealed his declining heart condition when he railed against the prophet who had delivered God's message. Amaziah responded passionately, "Have we appointed you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be struck down?" (25:16). Yes, he threatened the life of God's prophet for delivering God's message.

Amaziah's decline had clearly begun, and more than half of his reign remained. He had already angered God by his idolatry, and now he added clear rejection of God's message. The prophet foretold the inevitable result: "I know that God has planned to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my counsel" (25:16). While Amaziah's death would not come for some time, judgment began quickly and was very severe.

Amaziah continued to rely on his illogical human reasoning by going to war with Israel. He probably believed he had just cause; after all, the hired soldiers he had released had attacked his cities. Knowing that he had a small army, Amaziah chose to go to war with a country large enough that he had previously hired part of its army. Rather than trying a surprise attack to maximize his chance of victory, he sent a special invitation expressing his desire to fight. Israel's king actively tried to dissuade Amaziah from pursuing this battle, not because he was afraid, but because even he recognized Amaziah's proud heart and the danger for Judah. "Amaziah would not listen, for [the battle] was from God . . . because they had sought the gods of Edom" (25:20).

After Amaziah ignored all human and divine warnings, his army was defeated and ran for home. Israel's army pursued all the way to Jerusalem, where it destroyed the city walls, stole all the valuables, and took hostages. Amaziah himself escaped death and ruled for fifteen more years, but he had "turned away from following the LORD" (25:27), and all blessing was gone. Eventually his own people conspired against him and killed him. The conspiracy started when he turned from God, as the people apparently wanted a leader who would follow God, and they feared the consequences of a king who didn't.

Amaziah's adversary perceived, "Your heart has become proud in boasting" (25:19). Indeed, when Amaziah believed he knew what was best, he stopped looking to God for guidance. Because he did not fear and seek God, he lacked the wisdom for decisions, and his human logic failed him miserably. Had his devotion to God been whole-hearted, he would have continued to seek the right path, but his divided heart opened the way to destruction.