2 Chronicles 26: The Leper of Jerusalem

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In this chapter, we get the story of King Uzziah, who appears in Kings as Azariah. As with several of our other kings, his story is quite expanded here over what we had in in 2 Kgs 14:21-22 and 2 Kgs 15:2-7.

We open after Amaziah’s death, when Uzziah was only 16. Once again, we have a king who was placed on his throne by the people, not by succession laws, not by his own power.

We learn that his mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem, and that his reign lasted for 52 years. We also learn that he was a good king, “according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chron. 26:4). This is… rather different from the Chronicler’s estimation of Amaziah, and is quite different from the impression we will be getting of Uzziah as we read on. I also found it rather interesting that the Chronicler omits that Uzziah failed to stamp out the high places, which we find in 2 Kgs 15:4.

Instead, we are told that Uzziah was good and sought God and prospered for as long as he was under the influence of Zechariah – who is otherwise unknown, but seems to mirror Jehoiada in 2 Chron. 24:2. The point seems to be that Judah’s kings behave as long as they are kept firmly in the hands of the priests.

Of Uzziah’s deeds, we learn that he built Eloth and restored it to Judah, a detail in common with 2 Kgs 14:22. Like James Bradford Pate, I noticed the oddness of the order – should he have recaptured the city first, and then rebuilt it? I’m sure the order is either a coincidence or meant to show emphasis, but I found it interesting.

Uzziah’s other accomplishments include fighting the Philistines and breaking down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. It seems that he was able to take enough Philistine territory – and hold it – to build some towns.

With God’s help, Uzziah also won some battles against the Arabs living in Gurbaal, as well as the Meunites. (This is one of the very few mentions of the Meunites in our text, another being in 2 Chron. 20:1. I discussed them a bit more in my post about that chapter.) He collected tribute from the Ammonites, and was generally a very strong king.

Not all of his attention was outwardly focused, however, as he built several towers both in Jerusalem itself and out in the wilderness, and he hewed out many cisterns to support his vast herds.

Uzziah’s Military Might

Of his armies, the Chronicler tells us that they were under the command of Hananiah, but seem to have been mustered by Jeiel the secretary, and Maaseiah the officer. The army contained 307,500 men, organized under 2,600 clan heads. We are told that Uzziah equipped them with shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. He also built engines on the towers and the corners (presumably meaning that they were positioned along the walls) to shoot arrows and large stones.

I was struck by the mention of mail, since it seems like that should be a bit too advanced for the time period. After briefly searching on Wikipedia, I find that Uzziah is dated to the 8th century BCE, while the first examples of mail don’t come around until the 4th century (and among the Etruscans).

This leaves us with three possibilities:

  1. Translation error: It could be that the original text reads something more like “scale armour,” but the translators made an inaccurate choice.
  2. Author error: It could be that the author is talking about technology from his own time, perhaps something still new enough that it would sound really impressive when projected back onto Uzziah. That said, the Chronicler is likely still a little early to know about mail armour.
  3. No error: It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that the Israelites invented chain mail, but only made a few because they were too labour intensive, and none of those survived to be found by archeologists. It’s extremely unlikely that chain mail was in circulation so early, and even less likely that it would have been in use in Israel, but the possibility deserves mention.

I should note that other translators have handled 2 Chron. 26:14 differently. The NIV has “coats of armor” (which could certainly be applied to scale armor), while the KJV gives us “habergeons” (which can be used for either scale or mail). Other translations variously use “amor” (without qualifiers), “body armor,” and even “breastplates.” Based on this, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the fault for the anachronistic oddity belongs squarely to the RSV translators.

I was struck by the wall engines as well, which sounds like the torsion-powered engines of the Romans, like the ballista. The ballista itself doesn’t seem to have been in use until the 5th century BCE, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t predecessors in use prior to that date. It’s also possible for us to blame this on possibility #2 listed above.

But whatever his equipment, we are told that Uzziah was “marvellously helped, till he was strong” (2 Chron. 26:15), which is just a wonderful turn of phrase!

But he grew too proud

Unfortunately for Uzziah, pride goeth before a fall (or so claims Proverbs 16:18). As his power grew, he started to think a little too much of himself – so much so that he dared to take on the duties of priest.

In a story that is not even hinted at in Kings, Uzziah entered the Temple to burn incense. Eighty-one, led by Azariah, ran after him in an attempt to stop him. They tried to remind Uzziah that only priests have the right to be in the sanctuary, but this only angered Uzziah. And as he grew angry, a bout of leprosy broke out on his forehead.

When this happened, he fled from the Temple, but was stricken by the leprosy for the rest of his life – a detail confirmed by 2 Kgs 15:5, though no reason is given there for the disease.

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, by Rembrandt, 1635

As I read this, I wondered if it was Uzziah’s presence in the sanctuary that was punished, or his anger at the priests. Would God have been willing to overlook the incensed intrusion if he had left when asked by the priests? Perhaps we can see this as another example of the Chronicler privileging the priests – as he seems to be punishing Uzziah more for his disobedience of the 80 priests than his presence in the sanctuary.

For the rest of his life, Uzziah had to live in a separate dwelling place. Strangely, however, the text tells us that he had to live separately because he was excluded from the Temple, rather than being excluded from both palace and Temple because of his leprosy – which would have been my expectation if this were based on traditions like the one we see in Lev. 13:46.

Instead, this looks like yet another example of the Chronicler privileging the priesthood – where it is exclusion from the faith (as expressed on earth through the Temple) that warrants social exclusion.

In any case, Uzziah is forced into retirement, and his son – Jotham – governs in his place. When he dies, we learn that he is buried “with his fathers in the burial field which belonged to the kings” because he was a leper (2 Chron. 26:23). Trying to make sense of this statement, James Bradford Pate asks if it could mean that Uzziah was buried near the other kings, but not with them, because of his leprosy.

My own thinking is that perhaps his overstepping in the Temple was overlooked because he was already punished with the leprosy. We’ve seen with other kings that there seems to be some secret committee that decides, upon each king’s death, whether or not he warrants burial among the other kings. In this case, perhaps they decided to overlook Uzziah’s sin because of his leprosy.

For the remainder of Uzziah’s acts, the Chronicler sends us to the writings of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz.

2 Chronicles 25: The vicissitudes of Amaziah

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Much like his father’s, Amaziah’s reign is marked by great early faithfulness followed by a descent into idolatry. This time, however, we don’t have a shadowy priest/puppeteer to blame.

In this chapter, which is largely derived from 2 Kgs 14, we find a 25 year old Amaziah as his takes his father’s throne. His father, if you’ll remember, was murdered in his bed to avenge his killing of the prophet Zechariah (son of the high priest Jehoiada).

Once Amaziah took power, he wasn’t long in avenging his father. As soon as he has stabilized himself in his new position, he had the conspirators killed (we saw the same kind of court cleansing with Solomon in 1 Kgs 2, and Jehoram in 2 Chron. 21). Amaziah did, however, spare their children, which the Chronicler tells us was in accordance with the law of Moses (quoting Deut. 24:16).

The Edomite War

In 2 Kgs 14:7, we are told that Amaziah defeated 10,000 Edomites and captured Sela (which he renamed Joktheel). The Chronicler gives us quite a bit more detail:

It begins, as all good battles do, with preparation. Amaziah assembles his army, mustering any males over the age of 20 – this comes out to a total of 300,000 men, a much smaller number than Asa musters in 2 Chron. 14:8.

Amaziah fled to Lachish

Amaziah fled to Lachish

In addition to his native army, Amaziah also hires 100,000 Israelites for 100 talents of silver. God isn’t too happy about this, of course, and sends a prophet to change his mind. The argument is the same that we’ve heard quite a bit: Trust in God because victory comes from him, not from superior numbers. Besides, “the Lord is not with Israel, with all these Ephraimites” (2 Chron. 25:7). Amaziah doesn’t seem to contest this line of reasoning, but is worried about all the money he’s spent on the mercenaries going to waste. the prophet reassures him, saying that God is capable of giving him far more wealth than that.

Since Amaziah is still in the loyal portion of his reign, he listens to the prophet and sends the Israelite mercenaries back.

We finally come to the events of 2 Kgs 14:7, where Amaziah leads his army out to the Valley of Salt and kills 10,000 men of Seir. The Chronicler doesn’t mention Seir’s capture or renaming to Joktheel, but adds that Amaziah also took 10,000 Edomites captive (though he promptly tossed them off a cliff).

While this is going on, the spurned Israelites double back and attack Judah while it’s defenceless. They kill 3,000 Judahites, but this appears to be a fairly straightforward raid and they head back to Israel with their spoils. The Chronicler never tries to explain this loss, despite Amaziah doing as he was told.

In this story, the Chronicler never tells us why Amaziah killed the Edomite captives. The most likely explanation is that this was a show of force, a decimation to prevent future resistance. I also tried to think of it in light of the Israelite flanking attack: Perhaps Amaziah’s intention was to bring the captives (or at least a portion of them) back to Judah as slaves. But when he heard of the Israelite attack, he had to rush back and couldn’t afford the time to bring the slaves along. Or perhaps he feared their number, worrying that leaving too many Edomites alive could mean getting caught between two armies. Better to decimate the Edomites while his military power is concentrated in Edom, then return to deal with the Israelites without having to fear for his back.

Whatever the explanation, Amaziah doesn’t seem to have been in too much of a hurry to bring Edomite idols back to Judah, setting them up for worship. This detail is absent in the Kings account, but may be hinted at in 2 Kgs 14:3, where Amaziah is described as “follow[ing] the example of his father Joash” (Joash having turned to idolatry in his later life).

The Chronicler doesn’t give us any information about Amaziah’s motivations, but there are some possibilities:

  • It could have been another act to demoralize the Edomites and, perhaps, bring them back into the vassalage after they seceded in 2 Chron. 21. The point would be to, effectively, take their gods as hostages. As for setting up their worship in Judah, it could just be the Chronicler’s failure to imagine the possession of idols without their worship. Or perhaps Amaziah, a monolatrist, wasn’t comfortable with the possibility of angering the Edomite gods by cutting them off from worship.
  • One possibility that seems to be favoured by religious commentaries is that, having won such a great victory, Amaziah believed that the Edomite gods had changed sides.

In any case, God isn’t happy, and he sends another anonymous prophet to harangue Amaziah. This time, his argument is actually fairly compelling: Why would you worship the Edomite gods when they couldn’t even protect the Edomites?

The Thistle of Lebanon

Listening to the advice of his councillors, Amaziah sends an invitation to battle to King Joash of Israel. In response, Joash tells him a parable about a thistle who asks the cedar to give his daughter to marry the thistle’s son, but then a wild beast passes by and tramples the thistle. Just in case Amaziah doesn’t get it, Joash explains: Amaziah is full of boasting about his defeat of Edom, but that will only provoke trouble.

In 2 Kgs 14, Joash’s response makes a little more sense. Amaziah, full of his victory, decides to go after another neighbour. Here, however, it’s hard not to read Amaziah’s invitation as retaliation for the Israelite raid – but then Joash’s parable doesn’t fit quite so nicely.

In any case, Amaziah doesn’t listen (according to the Chronicler, God prevents him from listening so that he can use the ensuing war to punish him) and the two armies face each other at Bethshemesh. Israel wins and Amaziah is captured.

Joash then goes after Jerusalem, knocking down many of its walls, taking captives (including Obededom, who is not mentioned in the 2 Kgs account), and taking spoils from both Temple and palace.

We never learn of how Amaziah came to be freed, only that he outlived Joash by 15 years. Back in Jerusalem, a conspiracy grew against him and he was eventually forced to flee to Lachish. He was followed, though, and slain there, and the conspirators brought his corpse back to Jerusalem for burial.

In summary, the Chronicler tells us that Amaziah ruled for 29 years and that his mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. For more information, we are referred to the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.