Small Steps to Big Tragedy

Posted: January 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

2 Chronicles 27-28, “Small Steps to Big Tragedy”

Complete the Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins…with a single step.”  We normally quote that in regards to good goals & worthwhile causes – but the idea is true whether the end result is good or bad.  Just as it takes a few short steps to begin a journey that leads to good habits & even personal spiritual revival, a few short steps in the opposite direction can lead a person beyond a few days of spiritual laziness to outright apostasy & lawlessness. 

Ch 27-28 give us a vivid example of this with the reigns of Jotham & Ahaz.  What seems to be an overall good king, though perhaps a bit lazy ends up with tragic idolatry & apostasy under the leadership of a king that is one of the worst Judah has ever seen.

2 Chronicles 27 (NKJV)
1 Jotham was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerushah the daughter of Zadok.

  1. 25 might sound a bit young, but keep in mind that his father Uzziah became king at age 16.  His reign was relatively short compared with his father’s (52 years!), though remember Jotham had been judging the people ever since the time Uzziah was isolated from Jerusalem due to his leprosy. [Review Uzziah…]

2 And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done (although he did not enter the temple of the Lord). But still the people acted corruptly.

  1. Overall, Jotham was a good king – he is one of the very few that the author of Chronicles records hardly anything bad about.  He definitely learned the lesson of his father – though perhaps to a bit of an extreme.  Uzziah had attempted to offer incense inside the temple’s Holy Place; Jotham seemed to stay away from the temple altogether.  Instead of simply avoiding his father’s sin, he avoided worship entirely.
    1. Beware the tendency to swing from one extreme to the next.  Like a clock pendulum, sometimes we swing from one end to the other.  Someone gets their feelings hurt in church (a legitimate complaint), but then stays away from fellowshipping in a local church altogether.  Someone else has a hard time understanding a certain Scripture & then decides that “if that’s the God of the Bible, I don’t want anything to do with it.”  Uzziah’s problem wasn’t worshipping God in the Temple; it was doing it with a sin of presumption.  Jotham ought not to have thrown out the baby with the bathwater…neither ought we.  Whatever problems we experience along the way, we need to know without a doubt that we can take ALL of them to the feet of our Savior, Who will bring healing & understanding in His time.
  2. Notice the problem that is linked here.  Jotham may have been an overall moral king who attempted to live righteously, but without any firm foundation in the things of the Lord, he failed to lead his people in national revival. “The people acted corruptly.” …  What exactly did the people do?  2 Kings fills us in on the details: 2 Kings 15:35  However the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. He built the Upper Gate of the house of the Lord. []  They may have been worshipping the one true God, but they were worshipping Him incorrectly in pagan ways & pagan places…  Jotham (as a king raised up by God to rule over the people of God) had the responsibility to lead the people in the things of God.  Apparently, this is something he neglected, almost entirely.
    1. When we’re not moving forward, it’s too easy to move backwards without realizing it.  A few days neglecting the Scripture can easily turn into weeks – a little time spent in worldly carnal pursuits can end up easily as a habit. … That’s not to say we need a slavish legalistic routine – but we DO need to be aware of spiritual growth in our lives.  The more we grow & mature in Christ, the more we ought to see His fruit develop in our lives (love, joy, peace, etc.).  When we grow complacent, trouble starts – and we end up backsliding before we know it.
    2. Ultimately, this problem goes back to King Jotham – the leader appointed by God.  People need leadership.  That’s not to say leaders aren’t immune (leaders need to be led, themselves!), but all of us influence one another.  God has entrusted those who lead His people with the responsibility of leading them in the things of God.  If God’s leaders aren’t leading God’s people to Christ, where exactly ARE they leading God’s people?

3 He built the Upper Gate of the house of the Lord, and he built extensively on the wall of Ophel. 4 Moreover he built cities in the mountains of Judah, and in the forests he built fortresses and towers. 5 He also fought with the king of the Ammonites and defeated them. And the people of Ammon gave him in that year one hundred talents of silver, ten thousand kors of wheat, and ten thousand of barley. The people of Ammon paid this to him in the second and third years also.

  1. Jotham experienced a lot of success.  He was successful in construction & infrastructure within the nation.  He was successful in his military exploits – to the point where the Ammonites paid tribute to Judah as Jotham expanded his influence.
  2. All of this contrasts somewhat with the spiritual state of the nation.  Jotham was successful in many areas – but he missed out on what was most important: the nation’s devotion to God.
    1. Be careful not to miss this lesson within your own family.  There are many who would devote themselves to all sorts of success, but miss out on leading their own spouses & children in the things of God & introducing them to Christ Jesus.  Praise God for someone’s dedication to put bread on the table & to excel in their career; may it always be secondary to the spiritual needs of the family.  What good is a garage full of toys when our hearts are empty towards Jesus?

6 So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God.

  1. Jotham’s spiritual failures aside, it needs to be acknowledged that all the blessings he DID receive came from the Lord, as a result of Jotham’s desire to personally honor God with his actions.  Every good & perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17) & the Chronicler makes that clear in Jotham’s life.  Jotham seems to exemplify the principle found in the proverbs: Proverbs 3:5-6 (5) Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; (6) In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. []  We may not have too much information regarding Jotham’s devotional life, but when it came to living his life practically in the ways of God, Jotham excelled.  As a result, he lived in the blessing & provision of God. []  What we define as “blessing” may look different in your life & my life than it did Jotham’s – but the principle remains true.  Trust in the Lord 1st, and watch how God directs your paths.

7 Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all his wars and his ways, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah. 8 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. 9 So Jotham rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the City of David. Then Ahaz his son reigned in his place.

  1. It’s interesting that this account is so brief.  9 short verses to talk about a relatively good king.  Even the account in 2 Kings is short (6 verses) – although apparently there was originally some historical account written, not much survived to today.  Why?  Why doesn’t the Bible say more?  We don’t know – perhaps it’s due to the overall theme of the Chronicler: to show how the kings led people to God & away from God…how they kept or denied the covenant & worship.  Jotham may have been productive in other areas, but this was an area he simply didn’t do much with.  He was spiritually lazy, so there’s just not much to say.  Like the Church of the Laodiceans, Jotham seemed to have been just lukewarm, and thus not much of a help to anyone.
  2. That’s not a legacy we want!  We may not be rich – we may not rule a nation (we may not even lead a small group!), but may we be known as those who loved the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  There’s no question that if Jotham had truly loved the Lord with everything that he had, it would have boiled over in his life to affect the nation under his influence.  Likewise with us – those we influence cannot help but see the work of Jesus in our life & our love for our Lord & King.  If they don’t see it, perhaps it’s just hard for them to see what isn’t there in the 1st place.

2 Chronicles 28 (NKJV)
1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his father David had done.

  1. If Jotham was spiritually lukewarm, Ahaz was spiritually dead.  Ahaz was downright evil & didn’t only rebel against the examples of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather…he set himself in opposition against the very best of Israel’s kings: King David.  Ahaz denied his entire family legacy in his pursuit of sin.  How much so?  He’s described more as a king of Israel than a king of Judah.  See vs. 2…

2 For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals. 3 He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. 4 And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.

  1. Ahaz was an idolator.  He didn’t merely use idols that already existed; he had them made.  “Baal” is a general term here, referring to the many false gods in the area – especially those worshipped in Israel to the north, as seen in the reign of King Ahab (whom Elijah confronted on many occasions).
  2. Ahaz was a murderer.  To “burn children in the fire” is a reference to the abomination of placing babies on the white-hot hands of the metal idol of Molech (or others) in false idolatrous sacrifice.  Basically, it was infanticide in the name of idolatry (not unlike how abortion is often treated in this country).
  3. Ahaz was a pagan.  Just as his father allowed the people to keep the high places in the land for worship (rather than going to the temple in Jerusalem), Ahaz continued the practice.  In addition, he actually participated in it.
  4. This is a man that has NOTHING to do with God.  In opposition to David, who was a man after God’s own heart, Ahaz was a man completely opposed to the things of God.  He was totally unworthy to sit on the throne of Jerusalem & to receive the blessings of the covenant God made with David.  Because of God’s inviolable promise to David, God won’t remove the kingdom from the family (it needs to continue until fulfilled in Jesus) – but God CAN and WILL bring discipline & judgment to this rebellious king.

5 Therefore the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria. They defeated him, and carried away a great multitude of them as captives, and brought them to Damascus. Then he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who defeated him with a great slaughter.

  1. Syria may have defeated Judah in battle, but it was God who delivered Judah into the hands of their enemy.  As God had done many times before, He turned the tables on His people as He disciplined them.  Under Moses & Joshua, God gave miraculous victories to Israel; under evil kings like Ahaz, God gave supernatural victories to their enemies.
  2. Notice the results here.  Not only did God allow Judah to be defeated by Syria (and have multitudes taken into slavery), but God allowed Judah to be defeated by Israel as well.  Israel didn’t merely defeat Judah in battle; they “slaughtered” them.  See vs. 6.

6 For Pekah the son of Remaliah killed one hundred and twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all valiant men, because they had forsaken the Lord God of their fathers. 7 Zichri, a mighty man of Ephraim, killed Maaseiah the king’s son, Azrikam the officer over the house, and Elkanah who was second to the king.

  1. Define a “slaughter”: 120,000 qualifies.  120K men died in battle, including several of the leadership.  Considering the army under Uzziah was 307,500, this is at least roughly 39% of the fighting force that’s wiped out….not to mention how many died & were enslaved in the battle with Syria.  The army of Judah could have easily been cut in half by this point.  This wasn’t just a military defeat; this was a massacre.
  2. Remember that this was all directly allowed by God (vs. 5) – all because of the apostasy of the king & the rest of the nation.  This should have been a wake-up call for every man, woman, and child all over Judah!  God did not allow this to happen in order to simply inflict pain upon people.  God had a purpose in this tragedy: to cause people to repent from their idolatry & fall upon the mercy & provision of God.  Remember Judah was supposed to be in a covenant relationship with God: God was their King & they were His people.  It wasn’t that long ago that this covenant had been reaffirmed under Jehoiada the priest (2 Chr 23:16).  The people of Judah had a responsibility to act as the people of God, and they abandoned it.  Thus God acted in accordance to His right to do so.
    1. It’s no different when God allows His discipline into our own lives.  Through the blood of Jesus Christ, we have been brought into a covenant relationship with God the Father.  He loves us as a Father loves His children – and chastens us when necessary.  However, His discipline is never for trivial reasons; it’s always for a purpose: to bring us to a place of repentance & restoration.  The question for us is: what is it going to take to bring us to that place?

8 And the children of Israel carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand women, sons, and daughters; and they also took away much spoil from them, and brought the spoil to Samaria.

  1. Syria wasn’t the only nation that took slaves; so did Israel.  Don’t gloss over that too quickly: Israel took women & children from their own brethren as slaves.  This underscores the state to which Israel had fallen away from God.  This was in direct violation of the Law.  They were allowed to have an Israelite sell himself to another Israelite as a slave (Lev 25:39), but they were not allowed to compel another one of their brothers to be a slave (Lev 25:45-46).  Ultimately, every child of Israel belonged to God as His personal servant (Lev 25:55), they didn’t have the right to enslave one another.  The northern kingdom is in a sorry state by this point.

9 But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded;

  1. Just this phrase demonstrates so much of the grace of God!  Think of it: Israel is a nation that has been almost completely given over to idolatry – it’s a nation that obviously has no problem ignoring the clear command of Scripture – yet in the midst of THIS apostate nation, there is still a “prophet of the Lord” present.  They may have abandoned God, but God had not abandoned them.  In His grace & mercy, He is still giving them opportunity to repent & an availability to hear the word of God. 
  2. God is still giving people (even the people of Israel) an opportunity to repent!  They still have the word of God proclaimed to them – as a Gentile Church, part of our purpose is to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom 11:11), that they might seek God with their whole heart once more & repent, trusting Jesus as Lord & Messiah.


…and he went out before the army that came to Samaria, and said to them: “Look, because the Lord God of your fathers was angry with Judah, He has delivered them into your hand; but you have killed them in a rage that reaches up to heaven. 10 And now you propose to force the children of Judah and Jerusalem to be your male and female slaves; but are you not also guilty before the Lord your God?

  1. Oded points out that Israel was overstepping its bounds here.  Yes, God used them in judgment against Judah, but Israel slaughtered them in battle & was attempting to enslave their own kinsmen.  Judah may have been judged because of their sin, but Israel was just as guilty of their own sin.  His advice was good: don’t make things worse for yourselves!
  2. We need to understand that God sets the limits for His justice & discipline because God is God & God is good.  We dare not go beyond what God has revealed to us in His word, because otherwise we would be putting ourselves in the place of God.  Regarding vengeance, vengeance belongs to the Lord because He’s the only one righteous enough to perfectly dispense it.  Regarding smaller areas of church discipline, we still ought not go beyond what God had revealed to us.  [Matt 18: one-to-one, 2-3 witnesses, the Church, treat as an unbeliever…]  Nowhere in any of that is there a mandate to impose punishment, shunning, sin-papers, etc.  To treat someone as tax-collector is to treat him/her as someone who needs to trust Christ for forgiveness of sin.  The ultimate goal of discipline is restoration (as seen in 1 & 2 Corinthians).  To get in the way of God’s limits here is to get in the way of what God wants to do in that person’s life.

11 Now hear me, therefore, and return the captives, whom you have taken captive from your brethren, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.”

  1. With the admonishment comes a warning.  If they did not return the captives back to Judah, Israel would themselves incur the wrath of God.  God is righteous!  Even if He uses the ungodly in His discipline of His people, God will repay the ungodly for their evil deeds.  [Habakkuk & Babylon]

12 Then some of the heads of the children of Ephraim, Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai, stood up against those who came from the war, 13 and said to them, “You shall not bring the captives here, for we already have offended the Lord. You intend to add to our sins and to our guilt; for our guilt is great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.”

  1. Some of the leaders of Israel stood up for righteousness…  Once they understood the revealed will of God, they didn’t let it pass in one ear & go out the other; they took action.  This is a wonderful response from anyone (much less Israel!).  When we know the will of God from the word of God, we have a responsibility to act upon it. …
  2. They understood their own guilt against God, and did not want to add to it.  [Parable of unforgiving servant – Mt 18]

14 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the leaders and all the assembly. 15 Then the men who were designated by name rose up and took the captives, and from the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them, dressed them and gave them sandals, gave them food and drink, and anointed them; and they let all the feeble ones ride on donkeys. So they brought them to their brethren at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.

  1. Instead of slavery, the Israelites (Samaritans) treated the Jews with kindness.  They clothed them, cleaned them, fed them, and took them back home.  (You might call them the 1st “Good Samaritans.”)

–          Israel may have repented from their actions, but Ahaz didn’t.  (Quite a contrast from the normal state of things!)

16 At the same time King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria to help him. 17 For again the Edomites had come, attacked Judah, and carried away captives. 18 The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the lowland and of the South of Judah, and had taken Beth Shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, Sochoh with its villages, Timnah with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages; and they dwelt there.

  1. Attacked from the southeast by Edom (who took slaves).  Attacked from the west by the Philistines (who took cities).  Even in this, Ahaz doesn’t turn to the Lord…instead, he continues trying to rely on his flesh & skill by sending to the kings of Assyria for help.

19 For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the Lord.

  1. Obviously, it didn’t matter who Ahaz would call for help if he wasn’t calling out to the Lord.  God had purposefully brought Judah low because of Ahaz’s persistent sin & rebellion.  It wasn’t just Ahaz individually, but the entire nation corporately that was “continually unfaithful to the Lord,” thus God was bringing discipline upon them all.
  2. As in the days of the Great Tribulation, God will do what is necessary to get the attention of His people.  God loves us too much to allow us to persist in unrestrained sin.  If it takes turmoil to bring us to our knees, so be it.
  3. Question: why is Ahaz listed here as “king of Israel,” when he was plainly the king of Judah?  Chronologically, we’ve come to the point where the northern kingdom of Israel has basically ceased to exist as an independent nation.  The last king of “Israel” (Hoshea) sat on the throne in the 12th year of Ahaz’s reign (2 Kings 17:1) – within 9 years of that time, the population of Israel had been carried of captive to Assyria.  Yet before the captivity, Hoshea was already imprisoned in Assyria.  Ahaz might be considered the king of “Israel” by default.  For all practical purposes, they didn’t have a king, so there was only one person who could credibly claim to be the king over God’s chosen people of Israel.

20 Also Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him and distressed him, and did not assist him. 21 For Ahaz took part of the treasures from the house of the Lord, from the house of the king, and from the leaders, and he gave it to the king of Assyria; but he did not help him.

  1. In vs. 16, Ahaz had sent to the Assyrians for help – apparently they came, but not for help.  2 Kings 16:9 tells us Assyria went up against Damascus, but apparently they didn’t do so to actually help Judah.
  2. Notice how Ahaz paid Assyria: not just from his own treasuries, but from the temple treasuries.  Quite a bit of irony here.  Ahaz never turned to worship God in the temple, nor did he ever seek God’s counsel at the temple – but when it came to needing cash, he didn’t hesitate to turn to the temple to pay off the pagan help (that wasn’t a help at all).

22 Now in the time of his distress King Ahaz became increasingly unfaithful to the Lord. This is that King Ahaz. 23 For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, saying, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.

  1. Ahaz’s apostasy only got worse.  The longer he rebelled against God, the MORE he rebelled against God.  He was already a worshipper of the Baals; now he added the gods of Damascus (Syria) to his own little idolatrous pantheon.  Beyond adopting the Syrian gods as his own, Ahaz actually commissions a copy of the pagan altar in Damascus to be built in the temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 16) – a complete desecration of the temple grounds.  Basically, Ahaz treated spirituality as a buffet, picking & choosing what seemed best to him at the time.  Since the Syrians had defeated them earlier in battle, Ahaz figured the Syrian’s gods must be powerful enough to help him out.  The problem wasn’t the strength of Syria’s false gods; it was that the TRUE God gave the victory to Syria because of Ahaz’s own sin.  Illustrates two big problems:
    1. Ahaz never took personal responsibility
    2. Truth isn’t a buffet bar.  Truth is truth, period.  We can’t pick & choose the god that seems best to us, depending upon our circumstances.  God is either truly God in reality, or He’s not.  There’s no in-between…  The good news is that we can KNOW that the God of the Bible is truly God in Heaven. (1) Prophecy…  (2) Consistency… (3) The Resurrection…
  2. Did the false gods of Damascus help Ahaz?  No – they only made things worse.  They were the “ruin” of Ahaz & Israel – by engaging in this false worship, Ahaz not only neglected the worship of the true God, but he cut off the opportunity for people to worship the true God.  See vs. 24…

24 So Ahaz gathered the articles of the house of God, cut in pieces the articles of the house of God, shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and made for himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem. 25 And in every single city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers.

  1. No longer is idolatry & paganism merely allowed in Judah…no longer is it even encouraged; the true worship of the Bible is actually forbidden as the doors of the temple are shut up.  2 Chronicles began with the climax of the series, as Solomon built & dedicated the Temple & the people engaged in heartfelt worship & rededication to the Lord; Ahaz brings the kingdom to one of its lowest points since that time as the temple doors are locked & people don’t even have the opportunity to worship God if they wanted to.
    1. Jesus warned the Pharisees of a similar act, though on a spiritual level as opposed to a physical one.  Matthew 23:13  “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. []  Through their own hypocrisy & misrepresentation of God, they not only missed out on their own salvation, but they led people astray from finding salvation for themselves. … Beware of churches that do the same thing!  Churches that abandon the gospel of Jesus Christ – churches that misrepresent & malign the character of God – churches that trivialize salvation into a self-centered, man-pleasing, feel-good party do the same basic thing as Ahaz & the Pharisees by shutting up the way of God from those who most need to hear!
  2. What was the result of Ahaz’s continued apostasy?  He & the rest of the people provoked God to anger.  That’s a dangerous thing to do!

26 Now the rest of his acts and all his ways, from first to last, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. 27 So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem; but they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel. Then Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.

  1. Ahaz was buried without full honors.
  2. There’s actually some good news here: the history of Judah doesn’t end with Ahaz.  Hezekiah is on the way & he is going to bring a reformer & one who actually leads the people in repentance.  Beyond that, there’s even better news: the history of Judah doesn’t stop with Hezekiah either…it leads directly to the Lord Jesus Christ!


16 years of national good but spiritual laziness led into 16 years of outright evil.  Overall, Jotham was a good king, but he had a terrible legacy – which was blown into full tragedy with his son Ahaz, who was one of the worst kings Judah ever had.

The lesson?  Stop the cycle before it starts!


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