CHAPTER 6 - AZARIAH, OR UZZIAH, (TENTH) KING OF JUDAH
State of Judah at the Accession of Uzziah - Account of his Reign in the Book of Kings -Re-occupation of Elath - Religious Condition of Judah - Expedition against the Philistinesand neighboring Tribes - Occupation of Trans-Jordanic Territory - Restoration andExtension of the Fortifications of Jerusalem - Re-organization - Prosperity of the Country- Growing Pride and Corruption - The Sacrilege of Uzziah - His Leprosy and Death - JewishLegends.
(2 KINGS 15:1-7; 2 CHRONICLES 26)
WHATEVER motives had determined the selection of Uzziah by all the people of Judah assuccessor to his murdered father (2 Kings 14:21), the choice proved singularly happy. Toadapt the language of the prophet Amos (9:11), which, as mostly all propheticannouncements of the Messianic future, takes for its starting and connecting pointreference to the present, easily understood, and hence full of meaning to contemporaries -Uzziah found, on his accession, "the tabernacle of David," if not"fallen" and in "ruins," yet with threatening "breaches" init. Never had the power of Judah sunk lower than when, after the disastrous war withIsrael, the heir of David was tributary to Jehoash, and the broken walls of Jerusalem laidthe city open and defenseless at the feet of the conqueror. This state of things wasabsolutely reversed during the reign of Uzziah; and at its close Judah not only held thesame place as Israel under the former reign, but surpassed it in might and glory.
There can be little doubt that Jeroboam II. retained the hold over Judah which hisfather Jehoash had gained; and this, not only during the fifteen years after hisaccession, in which Amaziah of Judah still occupied the throne, but even in the beginningof the reign of Uzziah. For "breaches" such as those that had been made are notspeedily repaired, and Uzziah was, at his accession, a youth of only sixteen years (2Kings 15:2). We therefore incline to the view that the otherwise unintelligible notice (2Kings 15:1), that Uzziah acceded "in the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam" bearsreference to the time when he had shaken off the suzerainty of Jeroboam, and "beganto reign" in the real sense of the term.
This would make the period of Judah's liberation the twenty-seventh after Jeroboam'saccession, and the twelfth after the elevation of Uzziah to the throne, when that monarchwas twenty-eight years of age.*
* This is the view of Kleinert in Riehm's Hand-Worterb ii. p. 1704a. Others have regarded the numeral 27 ( zk ) as a clerical error for 15 ( wf ). In any case Uzziah could not have acceded in the 27th year of Jeroboam, as appears from a comparison with 2 Kings 14:2, 17, 23.
Important though the reign of Uzziah was - chiefly from a political, but also from areligious point of view - the writer of the Book of Kings gives only a few and these thebriefest notices of it. In fact, he may be said only to single out the leadingcharacteristics of that period. As regards political events, he marks the beginning of therecovery of Judah's power in the occupation of the important harbor of Elath, and therebuilding of that town (2 Kings 14:22). This, as we shall show reason for believing,probably in the early years of the accession of Uzziah.*
* This seems even implied by the otherwise strange addition in 2 Kings 14:22: "after the king fell asleep." Comp. the same in 2 Chronicles 26:2.
As always, he records the age of the new king and the duration of his reign, as well asthe name of his mother (2 Kings 15:2). If the suggestion previously made is correct, healso notices the exact time of the recovery of Judaean independence from Israel (2 Kings15:1). Again, the religious character of this reign is described; while, lastly, theunhappy fate and end of the king are recorded, although without mention of what led to it.Manifestly the point of view in the Book of Kings is simply "prophetic" - not,as in Chronicles, priestly - and the writer hurries over events alike of a political and apersonal character, to indicate what seems to him of main importance' the theocraticrelation of the people to Jehovah.*
* Bahr, u.s., p. 376.
The brief outline in the Book of Kings is amply filled up in that of Chronicles (2Chronicles 26.). Here, also, the first event recorded is the taking of Elath. Thisimportant harbor, from which, as from the neighboring Ezion-Geber, Solomon had sent hisfleet of traders to Ophir (1 Kings 9:26-28; 2 Chronicles 8:17, 18), lay on thenorth-eastern end of the Gulf of Akabah, and at present bears the same name. Of itsancient greatness only a tower remains for protection of the pilgrims to Mecca.*
* It is the tenth station on the road from Cairo to Mecca.
Around it are ruins and wretched hovels; but abundance of date-palms still betokens theformer fertility. For half-an-hour beyond the town stretch, along the blue gulf, sandscovered with beautiful shells; the view being finally shut off by granite and sandstonemountains. Such is the present aspect of "Eloth" (or Elath) "the strongtrees." There can be little doubt that when in the days of Joram of Judah "Edomrevolted" (2 Kings 8:20- 22), Elath recovered its independence. The conquest of Edomby Amaziah had apparently only extended as far as Petra, about half, way between the DeadSea and Elath. In occupying it again and rebuilding it, Uzziah therefore completed thesubjection of the country by his father. Such an expedition could not, in the state ofEdom, have offered any real difficulty, however much its success must, after the latedisasters, have raised the courage of Judah and inspired the people with confidence. Thesecircumstances, as well as the place which the narrative occupies in the sacred text, leadus to infer that this was the first military undertaking of Uzziah, And, in view of hisultimate purpose as regarded Israel, the king would naturally begin with what was not onlycertain of success, but would also secure his rear in any future expedition. Nor was thisall. A wide-reaching plan of national restoration would embrace the revival of commerce.And what prominence the new Tarshish mercantile marine held in public thought, and how itaffected life in Judah in the days of Jotham, the successor of Uzziah, appears from theallusion in Isaiah 2:16.
As regards the religious condition of the country it is significant that, as the reignof former kings, so the present was characterized by a combination of doing "theright in the sight of Jehovah," with a continuance of "the high places,"and their sacrifices and worship. It seems to indicate that this strange mixture inreligion marked the highest point attained by the people. But even this qualifiedadherence to the worship of the Lord was only temporary, as the text explains: "inthe days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God"* (2 Chronicles 26:5).This prepares us alike for the later history of the king, and for what we shall learn ofthe condition of the people.
* For the present Masoretic text: (...) (in the A.V. "understanding in the visions") we have evidently to read (the second word) (...) , "in the fear" - as many Codd., the LXX., Syr. Targ., the Jewish, and mostly all Christian interpreters. The first word should then be rendered either "understanding" in the fear of God (so the LXX.) or "instructing" in it. We prefer the latter interpretation (with the Syr. Targ., Rabbis, and many interpreters). The expression occurs in the same sense in Nehemiah 8:9. This Zechariah is not otherwise known. Needless to say that he was not the "prophet" of that name; nor even he that is mentioned in Isaiah 8:2, who lived a generation later.
But the first or religious period of the reign of Uzziah was one of continuous andprogressive prosperity. Although it is not possible to determine the precise chronologicalsuccession of events, it seems likely that the expedition against the Philistines soonfollowed that to the Red Sea. The object of it was finally to break up the greatanti-Judaean confederacy which, in the days of King Jehoram, had wrought such havoc inJudah, after the successful revolt of Edom (2 Chronicles 21:8-10).*
* See Vol. 6.
The defeat of Edom must have rendered this expedition also one of comparative ease. Oneby one the great Philistine cities fell; Gath, which, in the reign of Joash, had beenwrested by Hazael of Syria, and made the starting-point of his incursion into Judah (2Kings 12:17); Jabneh (Joshua 15:11), afterwards Jamnia, and about nine miles to thenortheast of it, and three miles from the sea, Ashdod. It was probably owing to theimportance of this strong town, which commanded the road from Egypt, that the sacred textspecially mentions this district as one in which the king "built cities" (2Chronicles 26:6). The general policy seems wisely to have been not to destroy nordepopulate the Philistine cities, but to render them harmless by breaking down theirfortifications, and founding by their side throughout the Philistine territory, cities,inhabited no doubt by Juda~an colonists. And from Philistia the expedition naturallyextended to, and reduced to submission, the Arab tribe to the south "inGur-baal" and "the Meunim" (or Meunites).*
* On this tribe and the confederacy generally, compare Vol. 6. It seems to me likely, that even if Gur-Baal is not identical with Gerar, about three hours to the south-west of Gaza (see the Targ.), it must be sought in that neighborhood. From Philistia in the S.W. evidently a line of defense is drawn to the extreme S.E. - the territory of Ammon. Near Gerar - the localization of which is not, however, absolutely certain, opens the wady which, starting from Hebron, stretches down to Beersheba.
We have now probably reached the period when either luxury and corruption had sodemoralized Israel as to render it incapable of resisting the extending power of Judah, orelse the government of Jeroboam II. had become paralyzed. For although the subdual of thePhilistines and the other tribes to the south and south-east explains the statement that"the name" - here, presumably, the authority - of Uzziah "went to the goingdown into Egypt," more is implied in the notice that "the Ammonites gavegifts." This tribute imposed on Ammon evidently presupposes the occupation by Uzziahof the intervening trans-Jordanic territory belonging to Israel.*
* Possibly Hosea 5:10 may contain an allusion to this, although perhaps more likely to events in the reign of Jotham (comp. 2 Chronicles 27:5).
And its possession seems implied in the further notice (2 Chronicles 26:10), that theherds of Uzziah pastured "in the low country," that is, on the rich Philistinedowns by the Mediterranean (1 Chronicles 27:28), and "in the plain," that is, onthe wide grazing lands east of Jordan, in the ancient possession of Reuben (Deuteronomy3:10; 4:43; and Joshua 13.).
But by far the most important undertaking of the reign of Uzziah was the restorationand the fortification of the northern wall of Jerusalem, which had been broken down in thetime of Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:23). Drawing an almost straight line along the north ofthe ancient city, Uzziah built three towers: "at the lower gate," in thenorth-western comer of the city, whence the wall slopes slightly southwards, and towardsthe west; at "the valley-gate," the present Jaffa gate; and lastly, at theopposite extremity of the northern wall (and again slightly south), to protect the so-called "horse gate" (Nehemiah 3:28; Jeremiah 31:40), where the northern wallforms to the east "a turning" or angle, whence it runs southwards (comp.Nehemiah 3:19, 20, 24, 25). Thus, as the "upper city" had, besides that justmentioned, not any other gate towards the west, nor yet any to the south, the entranceinto the city was defended on the north, west, south, and at its north-eastern angle.Moreover, these forts were armed with new and powerful engines for projecting arrows andgreat stones upon any besieging host (2 Chronicles 26:15). Lastly, in accordance with allthis, we read of a re-organization of the army, "according to the number of theirenrollment (mustering) by the hand of Jeiel, the scribe, and Maaseiah, the officer(superintendent?), under the hand (direction) of Hananiah one of the king's captains"(2 Chronicles 26:11). The levy was again made in accordance with earliest national custom- although in even more systematic manner than before. Under two thousand six hundred"heads" or "chiefs of houses," "mighty men of valor," anarmy of not less than 307,500 men was gathered, and completely equipped by the king - theheavy infantry being furnished with shields, cuirasses, and helmets, the light infantrywith bows and "stones for slings."*
* So, and not as in the A.V. "slings to cast stones." The armament was that common to the nations of antiquity.
This specially indicates the completeness of the armament, which, this time, was notonly furnished by the central authority, but with such care that even the slings and thestones generally picked up by the men were served out to the troops.*
* We purposely omit reference to the Assyrian inscription, which records an attempted alliance between Hamath and nineteen cities of the district, and Azriyahu - Azariah or Uzziah (Schrader, V. 5, pp. 217- 227). It is quite possible that in their revolt from Assyria these cities may have sought an alliance with Uzziah, into which, however, that monarch did not enter. But the reference to Uzziah in the boastful record by Tiglath-pileser of this Syrian coalition is too shadowy to admit, in our view, any certain inference (comp. Nowack, Assyr. Bab. Inschr. p. 27, Note 8). Are we to regard the introduction of the name of Azriyahu as meaning literally that monarch, or only in a general sense as referring to him in his successors - just as Omri is introduced in the inscriptions? Again, are we to regard the reference as indicating a strictly historical event? This seems scarcely possible. Or is it a general reference to, or inference from, a later policy - or does it express a suspicion, or is it only a boast? On the Assyrian chronology, in its bearing on that of Scripture, we purposely forbear entering for reasons previously indicated. An attempt at conciliation of the two chronologies (by Oppert), see at the close of Hommel, Abriss d. Bab. Ass. u. Isr. Gesch. Comp. also H. Brandes, Abh. zur Gesch. d. Orients im Alterth.
In these circumstances we do not wonder that the warlike fame of the king "wentforth unto far," although we specially note how carefully the sacred text throughoutemphasizes the Divine help extended to Uzziah in each part of his undertakings. Nor wasthe internal prosperity of the realm less marked. We have already seen how thereoccupation of Elath led to a revival of shipping and commerce which must have broughtwealth to the country. Similarly, the king took a deep interest in agriculture. In themountains of Judah the ancient terraces were repaired for the culture of the vine; in themore flat portions, as in the district of Carmel (1 Samuel 15:12; 25:2, 5), agriculturewas carried on; whilst, alike in "the wilderness" of Judah, in "the lowcountry" of the Philistine downs, and in the rich "plain" across theJordan, numerous flocks and herds browsed - provision and security for the operations of"husbandry" being afforded by hewing out many cisterns and building watch-towers(2 Chronicles 26:10).
It has previously been stated that this was the flourishing period of prophetism inIsrael. This perhaps the more, because now the last warning voices were raised among apeople sunk in idolatry and corruption, and nigh to judgment. From the prophetic allusionsthe state of matters in Judah seems, at least during the first period of this reign, tohave been somewhat better. But here also, alike owing to increasing prosperity and tosuccess, "pride" and its resultant vices, soon became apparent (Amos 2:4; Hosea5:5, 14; comp. also Isaiah 2:5, etc.; 3:12, 15; 7:10-13; 28:7-10).
This chiefly on the part of the king himself. In the expressive language of HolyScripture, "when he was strong his heart was lifted up unto destruction" - thatis, until he did that which was wrongful and destructive. Intolerant of any power in theland but his own, he sought to combine the chief functions of the priesthood with those ofroyalty.*
* Some critics have endeavored to maintain that, in this, Uzziah only aimed to act as David and Solomon had done, and to reassert the ancient royal right of chief conduct of the religious services. But there is absolutely not a tittle of evidence that either David or Solomon ever arrogated to themselves any strictly priestly functions, least of all that about to be mentioned.
The holiest service of the Temple was when the incense was offered on the golden altarwithin the Holy Place. It symbolized the offering of Israel's worship by the great HighPriest. Regardless of the express Divine ordinance (Exodus 30:7, 27; Numbers 18:1-7),Uzziah penetrated into the Holy Place to arrogate to himself this holy function. In vainAzariah, "the chief priest" (2 Chronicles 26:17, 18), and with him eighty otherbrave men, no doubt priests of "the course" then on service, sought to arrestthe king. Their remonstrance, really their warning, that the issue would be other than hispride had anticipated, only served to incite the wrath of the king. Such uttermisunderstanding and perversion alike of the priestly functions in their deepest meaning,and of the royal office in its higher object - and that from motives of pride - must bringinstant and signal judgment. While yet the censer with its burning coals was in his hand,and looks and words of wrath on his face and on his lips, in sight of the priesthood, hewas smitten with what was regarded as pre-eminently and directly the stroke of God's ownHand (comp. Numbers 12:9, 10; 2 Kings 5:27). There, "beside the altar ofincense," the plague-spot of leprosy appeared on his forehead.
Hastily the assembled priests thrust him, whom God had so visibly smitten, from theHoly Place, lest the presence of the leper should defile the sanctuary. Nay himself,terror-stricken, hastened thence. So the king, whose heart had been lifted up to the utterforgetfulness of the help hitherto given him by Jehovah until he dared the uttermostsacrilege, descended living into the grave in the very moment of his greatest pride. Tilldeath released him he was a leper, dwelling outside the city, separated - "in a houseof sickness " - or, as others have rendered the expression, with perhaps greaterprobability, in "a house of separation" (comp. Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2; 2Kings 7:3) Cut off from access to the house of the Lord, where he had impiously sought tocommand, and debarred from all intercourse with men, the kingdom was administered byJotham, his son - for how long a period before the death of Uzziah it is impossible todetermine. His punishment followed him even into the grave. For, although he was"buried with his fathers," it was "in the field of the burial whichbelonged to the kings," probably the burying ground of the members of the royalfamily; he was not laid in the sepulcher where the kings of Judah rested; "for theysaid, He is a leper."*
* The view here taken is that of Rashi and other Rabbinical commentators.
Of the record of his deeds by Isaiah, to which the sacred text refers (2 Chronicles26:2), no portion has been preserved. Although the activity of the prophet began duringthe reign of Uzziah (Isaiah 1:1; 6:1), yet, considering that it extended into that ofHezekiah, Isaiah must have been still young,* when the leprous king died. Jewish legendhas fabled much about the stroke that descended on the sacrilegious king. In his clumsymanner of attempting to account for the directly Divine by natural causes, Josephus**connects the sudden leprosy of the king with that earthquake (Amos 1:1) of which theterrible memory so lingered in the popular memory as almost to form an era in theirhistory (Zechariah 14:4, 5).
* Some critics have suggested that he was then only about twenty years of age.
** Ant. 9. 10, 4.
In that earthquake, which Josephus describes, he tells us: "a rent was made in theTemple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king's face,insomuch that the leprosy seized upon him immediately." Other Jewish writersstrangely identify the death of Uzziah referred to in Isaiah 6:1, with the living death ofhis leprosy, and the earthquake with the solemn scene there pictured. Yet this applicationof theirs is certainly true when they rank Uzziah with those "who attained not whatthey sought, and from whom was taken that which they had" (Ber. R. 20).
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