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 Kings 14-15: Precarious Politics

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My eyes are glazing over with the timelines, but my New Bible Commentary is very adamant that there are discrepancies. I’m inclined to take them at their word, since they seem so uncomfortable with it. They variously try to explain discrepancies through co-regencies, pretenders, and attempts to erase predecessors from the record following a coup. A fourth option that they don’t acknowledge is simple error – typos, guesswork to fill in incomplete records, and differences in regional record keeping are all perfectly plausible explanations.

We begin with Amaziah, who took the crown of Judah in the second year of Israel’s Joash. He was 25 years old when he became king, and he ruled for 29 years. His mother was Jehoaddin, a Jerusalem local.

Amaziah was great, but our narrator wants to make sure we understand that he wasn’t as great as David. His major downside is that he failed to destroy the “high places” – local centres of worship.

When Amaziah settled into his crown, he went after the conspirators who had murdered his father in 2 Kgs 12:20-21. He did, at least, spare their children, “according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses” (2 Kgs 14:6) – a reference to Deut. 24:16, and not Deut. 5:9-10.

Amaziah and Jehoash go to war

Back in 2 Kings 13:10-13, in the overview of the Israelite monarchy, we learned that Jehoash fought against Amaziah. Despite the fact that Jehoash’s death was recorded there, the narrative now brings us back to fill out the details of the war between Judah and Israel (because all the name repetitions wouldn’t be confusing enough without time skipping). This time, however, we get things from Judah’s point of view.

At some point during his reign, Amaziah defeated the Edomites – killing ten thousand of them and securing Shela (which he renamed Joktheel).

He later sent messengers to Jehoash, king of Israel, asking for a face-to-face meeting. Jehoash responds with a parable in which a thistle asks a cedar for their children to marry, then a wild beast comes by and tramples the thistle. (The parable may be a reference to – or using the same established conventions as – the one found in Judges 9:8-15.) He concludes by warning Amaziah: You’ve beaten the Edomites and are giddy with your success, but don’t provoke trouble lest you lead to your (and Judah’s) downfall.

2 Kings 14-15The meaning seems clear enough: Jehoash sees Amaziah as below him (just a thistle to his cedar), and he’ll end up getting trampled in a completely unrelated event if he tries to arrange a marriage with Jehoash? I’m not sure the parallels are quite straight. Regardless, the insult seems clear.

What’s less clear is the reason for it. When Jehoash says, “Be content with your glory, and stay at home” (2 Kgs 14:10), it makes me think that Amaziah was so pumped by his success against Edom that he was planning on coming after Israel next.

Certainly, what comes next seems to bear out this interpretation, since we’re told that Amaziah wouldn’t listen and, therefore, the two nations met in battle at Beth-shemesh.

Unfortunately for Amaziah, Israel wins the day and he is captured. Jehoash then pushed forward to Jerusalem, crashing through its walls, sacking the city, and taking hostages. Though not stated here, my study Bible suggests that the hostages were taken in exchange for Amaziah’s return. This seems plausible, and there’s no contradicting mention here of Amaziah’s return to Jerusalem, where we find him later in the chapter.

The narrative skips forward to Jehoash’s death, after which he is succeeded by his son, Jeroboam.

Back to Judah, Amaziah outlived Jehoash by 15 years. He finally died at the hands of another conspiracy (perhaps related to the one that killed his father in 2 Kgs 12:20-21, or maybe retribution for Amaziah’s slaughter of the last conspirators, or maybe just a sign of how unstable the region was at the time). The conspiracy forced Amaziah to flee to Lachish, and it’s there that he was killed. His body was returned to Jerusalem for burial.

The narrative tells us that his son, Azariah (elsewhere called Uzziah), was made king at the age of 16. I was unclear whether he simply succeeded his father, or if he was perhaps the centre of the coup that saw his father killed. The phrasing is ambiguous enough that I was able to concoct a narrative in which Azariah is crowned, and that this prompted Amaziah to flee to Lachish.

Of Azariah’s reign, we learn only that he built a place to Elath and “restored it to Judah” (2 Kgs 14:22). I wasn’t sure what this meant, but my study Bible suggests that it may have been a seaport that could be restored once the Edomites were pushed back.

The reign of Jeroboam II

The narrative then moves back to Israel, where Jeroboam took the crown in the fifteenth year of Judah’s Amaziah. He reigned for forty-one years and, like his predecessors, carried on the sins of the first Jeroboam.

Which seems like such an odd complaint, since it’s clear that that the kings of Judah are doing the same (in keeping the high places). Yet while this qualifies as a mere first strike for the kings of Judah, it damns the kings of Israel – despite how anachronistic the demand for a fully centralized cult seems to be.

Of Jeroboam’s reign, we learn that he restored the borders of Israel, acting as God’s agent in sparing Israel from destruction. All of this was in fulfilment of the prophecy delivered by Jonah – yes, that Jonah.

After his death, Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Zechariah.

The reign of Azariah

We then skip back down to Judah, where Amaziah’s son, Azariah, took the crown in the 27th year of Israel’s Jeroboam. As above, he came to power at 16, and he ruled for 52 years. His mother, another Jerusalem native, was named Jecoliah. He gets God’s stamp of approval, despite the fact that he did not remove the high places.

At some point during his reign, Azariah became a leper and shut himself away. Though he continued as king in name, his son, Jotham, took over governance.

A limestone tablet was found in Jerusalem with the inscription: “Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah, King of Judah: not to be opened.” This is through to refer to Azariah, though the tablet has been dated to the first century CE. One theory is that Azariah’s corpse may have later been reburied, and that the tablet was made at that time.

Israel changing hands

Over the next few years, we see Israel changing hands multiple times – a testament to the political instability in the region.

In the 38th year of Judah’s Azariah, Zechariah succeeded his father. He ruled for a mere six months, though that was long enough for our narrator to condemn him (once again for continuing the cultic practices of Jeroboam).

He was killed by Shallum, son of Jabesh. This is, of course, in fulfilment of the prophecy that Jehu’s dynasty would last only until the fourth generation, as per 2 Kgs 10:30.

Shallum’s reign began in the 39th year of Azariah, and lasted only a single month. He was murdered by Menahem, son of Gadi.

Menahem seems to have brought a little stability to Israel, keeping hold of his crown for ten years. In that time, or perhaps during his coup, he sacked Tappuah and “ripped up all the women in it who were with child” (2 Kgs 15:16). This rather horrifying act seems to have been a convention of sorts, as we saw Elisha prophecy in 2 Kings 8:12 that Hazael would do the same. Was it really something people in the region were doing, perhaps as a form of psychological warfare? Or is this propaganda meant to highlight the savagery of enemies? Perhaps both…

Menahem receives the same judgement as all the kings of Israel – he was evil ni the way of Jeroboam. During his rule, the Assyrians harassed Israel, lead by a king identified here as Pul (though my study Bible indicates that this is just another name for Tiglath-pileser III). Menahem collected a total of 1,000 talents of silver, taxed from the wealthy men of Israel (50 shekels each, which is apparently the equivalent of about $25), to bribe Pul against attacking. It works, and Pul is turned away.

In the 50th year of Azariah’s reign in Judah, Menahem died and was succeeded by his son, Pekahiah. He, too, was evil in Jeroboam’s way, but lasted only two years before being murdered by his captain, Pekah (aided by fifty Gileadites).

Despite his beginnings, Pekah managed to hold on to power for twenty years, though he spent them losing Israel piece by piece to the Assyrians. We see here the beginning of a diaspora as the Assyrians carry off the Israelites they capture back to Assyria.

Pekah’s rule ended as it began, with a coup. In the 2th year of Judah’s Jotham, Hoshea deposed Pekah and installed himself as king. Though not mentioned here, it seems that an Assyrian inscription has Tiglath-pileser claiming to have placed Hoshea on the throne, perhaps as a puppet.

Back to Judah, we learn that Jotham began his rule in the second year of Israel’s Pekah. He was 25 years old at his ascension, and lasted for sixteen years. His mother’s name was Jerusha, identified as the daughter of Zadok. As with his predecessors, he is judged generally good, but shame about those high places.

Of his rule, we’re only told here that he built the upper gate of the temple, and that his rule saw harassment from Syria (under Rezin) and Israel (under Pekah). He was succeeded by his son, Ahaz.