Read an Excerpt
From Kings to
After Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.
(2 Chron. 26:16a)
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I want to ask you to begin our very personal journey to breaking free in what may seem like a peculiar place. We will consider a brief overview of the kings who reigned during the ministry of Isaiah the prophet. We will do so for three reasons:
· First, each of the kings embodies the problems we too must encounter on the trail to freedom. By learning how they wandered into captivity, we can begin to see ourselves. I hope we will also begin to spot the first clues to how we can escape captivity.
· Second, studying these kings will give us a starting place for understanding the prophet Isaiah and his message.
· Third, I just believe Bible study carries its own rewards. God has used the study of His Word to set me free. Time studying the Bible is always well spent.
Before we turn to the first king, consider a few facts about Isaiah. He ministered as a prophet during the period when Israel was a divided kingdom. After King Solomons death in 931 B.C., the kingdom of Israel divided into the north and the south. The southern kingdom took on the name Judah. The northern kingdom continued to be called Israel.
The prophets Hosea and Micah were Isaiah's contemporaries. Isaiah's name means "the Lord saves" and the word salvation is used in his book twenty-seven timestwice as many as the other prophetscombined. Isaiah was married, and I think you might be blessed by the title he gave his wife. In Isaiah 8:3, he called her the "prophetess."
Can you imagine them being introduced as the prophet Isaiah and his beloved wife, the prophetess? I like Isaiah already, don't you? He and the Mrs. had two sons: Shear-Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Had they been mine, I would have nicknamed them Jash and Hash to save time. I doubt that he did. Under normal circumstances he may have had a playful side, but these were not funny times. Nothing is humorous about the impending judgment of God.
Isaiah was well educated, most likely came from an upper-class family, and was probably related to the royal house of Judah. God inspired him to write one of the longest books in the Bible. His ministry extended for over forty years, bridging 740 B.C. to at least 701 B.C.
Isaiah's calling came, not coincidentally, right after the death of the first king we'll consider: King Uzziah. The name Uzziah means "the Lord is my strength." Much of his reign was a reflection of his name. Uzziah became king when he was sixteen years old. He reigned in Jerusalem for fifty-two years. He brought Judah to its greatest heights economically and militarily. He might be remembered as the greatest king between David and Christ except for one thing. In 2 Chronicles 26:16-23 we discover that the sin of pride became his downfall. He usurped the role saved exclusively for the priests. He took upon himself the forbidden task of burning incense in the holy place within the temple of God. As a result God struck Uzziah with leprosy. Uzziah had been a good man. Yet when his life was over, all people could say was, "He had leprosy."
Pride can lead to captivity (Jer. 13:15-17). we certainly see that it led to a real and tangible captivity in Uzziah's life. Thus Uzziah's tragic end signals our first warning. Pride will be an obstacle every believer must face on the freedom trail.
Uzziah died in seclusion after a prosperous reign. His son Jotham resembled his father in that he grew powerful and ruled effectively. He differed in a crucial way: "Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the LORD" (2 Chron. 27:6). Jotham seems to have learned from the downfall of his once-great father.
Jotham "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord" (2 Kings 15:35), but he overlooked one critical matter. The people worshiped the other gods like Baal and Asherah. These places of worship were called "high places." Jotham allowed the high places to continue in Judah. Jotham sought God faithfully and walked steadfastly before Him, but he refused to demand respect for the one and only God. So Jotham serves as the poster boy for another path to captivity. To be free in Christ, our high places will have to fall. We must be willing to take a stand against idolatry.
In the lives of Uzziah and his son, Jotham, we see huge obstacles of pride and an unwillingness to take a stand against idolatry. We also see a continuous suggestion of unbelief because they were warned over and over about the consequences of their defiance. The same obstacles they faced confront us as we seek to enjoy the benefits of salvation.
Ahaz became king after the death of his father Jotham, but Ahaz "did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD" (2 Chron. 28:1). He made idols, worshiped the Baals, and offered sacrifices at the high places. In an abyss of personal evil I cannot even imagine, verse 3 says he even sacrificed his sons in the fire. Can you even comprehend such behavior on the part of one of the kings of God's people?
Please do not miss the fact that Ahaz offered sacrifices at the high places. The high places were accessible to a young and impressionable Ahaz because his father Jotham did not have them removed. Not coincidentally, the atrocity Jotham chose to ignore was exactly the one that snared his own son. Later in our study we will concentrate on the sins parents and grandparents pass along to children.
Next we consider the fourth king and a remarkable phenomenon that is highly improbable without Godthe righteous son of an unrighteous father. Hezekiah turned out to be an exact opposite of his father Ahaz. He did something critically important that Jotham failed to do. Hezekiah destroyed the high places. Hezekiah wholeheartedly sought both reformation and restoration. I wonder when Hezekiah's attitudes and philosophies began to depart from his father's. Is it possible he resented losing brothers on a pagan altar and distrusted any father who could do such a thing?
In 2 Chronicles 32 we read one of the remarkable stories of deliverance in Scripture. King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah and laid siege to the cities. The Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem, and the officials sought to discourage the inhabitants of the city. In the process they made a crucial mistake: they taunted Israel's God.
The Assyrian messenger tried to convince the people of Jerusalem that God could not save them. He said the gods of the other nations could not save those nations and Israel's God would be the same. He asked the wrong question: "How then can your god deliver you from my hand? ... for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my fathers. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!" (2 Chron. 32:14b-15).
From the tone of 2 Chronicles 32:20, Hezekiah and Isaiah were obviously frightened, but they did something brilliant with their fears: they cried out to the Lord. "And the LORD sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace" (2 Chron. 32:21).
Hezekiah may have considered Sennacherib's attack to be the most frightening experience of his life ... until he was hit with a different kind of fear, a far more personal kind.
In Isaiah 38 God told Hezekiah he was going to die, but Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and cried out to God. In response, God added fifteen years to the king's life. Isaiah said, "Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover" (v. 21). I find it fascinating that God healed Hezekiah through medical treatment. Obviously God did not build a wall between faith and using medicine.
No sooner had Hezekiah recovered than he started sounding as if his close encounter with death came with an automatic doctorate. He said things like, "In your love you kept me / from the pit of destruction" (v. 17), as if the decision to spare one of God's own has anything to do with loving one person more than another. God cannot love us any more or any less than He does at this moment. He chooses to heal or not to heal for His own reasons. All His decisions come from His love, but whether He chooses to heal or take us home, His love remains constant.
Hezekiah also assumed God gave him fifteen more years because only those living on this earth can praise Him (v. 19). Only a few people in the Old Testament seem even to have glimpsed the Resurrection. Hezekiah obviously thought this world was all there is. All these years I've figured my best abilities to praise God would come with my death and, until then, I was severely limited.
Neither of these statements by Hezekiah was the biggy, though. Someone should have stuffed that fig poultice in his mouth before he was able to utter, "I will walk humbly all my years / because of this anguish of my soul" (v. 15).
We have a crippling tendency to forget what God has done for us. For a while, we're humbled. Then, if we do not guard our hearts and minds, we begin to think we must have done something right for God to have been so good to us. Therein lies another road to captivity. It is the road of legalism. Hezekiah believed he was right with God because of what he had done.
We don't have to look far to see that Hezekiah's self-generated righteousness didn't work well or long. Emissaries from the seemingly insignificant city of Babylon came to Jerusalem to congratulate Hezekiah on his restored health. In arrogance and foolish pride, he showed the envoys all the treasures of the city. Babylon would be the very nation to take Judah into captivity. Hezekiah let down his guard and enjoyed the approval of the godless.
Hezekiah's life is a blatant reminder that no one is immune to foolish actions fueled by pride. We may be afraid to ask God on a daily basis to keep us humble because humility involves discomfort. We may have to suffer some embarrassment, even some failure. Why are we not far more frightened of what pride can do? Pride can cost usand probably those after us.
Several years ago I began developing the habit of confessing and repenting of pride daily, even if I may not have been aware of its presence. I asked God to show me where it was raising up its head or sneaking up on me. So often God will show me little bits of pride that, if left to grow, could be devastating. Let me share a recent example.
Not long ago, I decided to purchase a new Bible. My old one looked like someone had put it in the dishwasher on "pot scrubber." I told my coworkers that I was going to keep the new Bible at work until I could get accustomed to it and still take my old one on speaking engagements for awhile. As the words came out of my mouth, the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper in my ear, "Sounds like pride to Me." He was right. I didn't want to have to struggle to find Scriptures in front of a group. I felt sick to my stomach. That very moment I put up my old Bible. I've flip-flopped my way through the new one ever since.
Have you noticed that the godly kings seemed to struggle with issues of pride more than the ungodly kings? May we learn to guard ourselves against all the lures to captivity. Pride, idolatry, unbelief, legalism, these will prove obstacles we too must confront.