Jotham and Ahaz: A Tale of Two Kings

Derek Wells, Speaker

2 Chronicles 27-28 | August 12 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
August 12
Jotham and Ahaz: A Tale of Two Kings | 2 Chronicles 27-28
Derek Wells, Speaker

Good morning. If you have your Bibles, let’s take them and turn to 2 Chronicles, chapter 27 and 28. It’s a privilege to lead you in worship this morning and the preaching of God’s Word. It’s wonderful to see so many faces out there that look so much more familiar than last time, and so Michelle and I continue to be so grateful for Christ Covenant. It’s a privilege to be here this morning preaching the Word. We’re in a series on the kings of Judah. We’re not going to read both chapters in their entirety this morning, but simply going to highlight portions as we move through the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz, Jotham and Ahaz. If you are a linear-thinking person, this series on the kings of Judah is probably driving you a little nuts, because have you noticed, you cannot draw a straight line. In fact, the whole book of 2 Chronicles seems to be just a crooked line. You know, a good king follows a bad king, a bad king follows a good king, and even within the reign of one king, there’s often an up and down.

I grew up in youth group in Greenville, South Carolina and I’ve thought about this many times in this series. We used to go to Six Flags over Georgia. Sorry, Carowinds folks. And we would ride this ride called The Scream Machine, The Scream Machine, and it would just go up and down, up and down, and this book can feel a little bit like being on the Scream Machine.

Now, I know you might have problems with that analogy and we’re Presbyterians, we don’t scream about anything, [laughter], right? But it can feel a little bit like that, hard to keep straight, hard to keep up.

Another obstacle are the names we encounter in these texts. One king we will get to, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria. You have no idea how much of my week that has consumed trying to pronounce that. If you are expecting, there is a name for you, you know, if you’re feeling bold, Tiglath-Pileser. You probably won’t find that in a book of baby names, but if you’re so bold, go ahead.

If you could be king for a day, if you had absolute power and autonomy, what would you do? If you could be king for a day, what would you do? There’s that common “I would end world hunger.” Perhaps you would give Charlotte a major league baseball team. Maybe you would ban sappy memes on social media. If you could be king for a day, what would you do? Or more importantly, what would your reign reveal about you? What would your reign reveal about you?

If you want to reveal someone’s heart, give them a kingdom to rule. Now we don’t have kingdoms, but we do have homes. Some neat and tidy, some not so much. We have office spaces, perhaps memorabilia around them, accomplishments around them. We have living rooms, flat screen TVs, some hidden off in a corner, some up on the mantel altar style, as you go in there’s that 50-inch flat screen looking at you. We have yards, some pristine, some unkempt. Hidden things about us are exposed in the way we govern our little kingdoms.

Even more so, we see this in the kings of Judah, don’t we? We see their, their heart issues are on display in their reign. And if nothing else, that makes this book extremely relevant to us. We ought to resonate with it. But even that is not the main point.

The main point has to do with what these earthly kingdoms reveal about the heavenly kingdom, namely that God is a king. How does God display His kingship? How do the kings respond? How do we respond to God’s kingship? These questions might provide some context for our message this morning, but our outline will cover three things. We’ll see humility and honor in the reign of Jotham, judgment and mercy in the life of Judah, and idolatry and futility in the reign of Ahaz. So humility and honor, if you want to take short notes, judgment and mercy, idolatry and futility. And with that, let us go to the Lord in prayer.

Our Father in heaven, we humble ourselves before you. We pray that You would move your lowly servant out of the way, that Your Word and Your truth might be proclaimed to Your people, and that Your truth might go forward into our hearts, transforming us, converting us, changing us, and that Christ would be glorified, we pray. In Christ’s name, amen.

2 Chronicles chapter 27, we’ll look at verses 1 and 2. Humility and honor. The reign of Jotham. Jotham was 25 years old when he began to reign and he reigned 16 years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha, the daughter of Zadok, and he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord, but the people still followed corrupt practices. Jotham takes over the kingship of Judah in the midst of Uzziah, his father’s demise. A difficult time to take over kingship. Uzziah was a mighty king, you’ll remember two weeks ago Bernie preaching on Uzziah. He had tremendous successes and blessings from God. But as you’ll recall, Uzziah’s blessings go to his head. In chapter 26, verse 16, it says he was strong; when he was strong, he grew proud to his destruction, for he was unfaithful to the Lord. In his pride, Uzziah attempts as the king to perform a priestly function, a burning incense before the altar of incense. And in the Old Testament, the offices of king and priest were set apart, and only the priests were consecrated to perform that action. But Uzziah thinks, no, I’m successful, God has blessed me, and I am mighty. Thank you very much, I’m the king, I can usurp the Mosaic law, and in doing so, he’s essentially saying I can disregard God. And it leads to his demise.

As Bernie left us with this pride, and unfaithfulness, marked the end of the reign of Uzziah.

There is some similarities between Jotham and Uzziah, and one important difference. Look at verse 3 through 5, they chronicle Jotham’s success. Verses 3 and 4, he built cities and fortresses and towers. He builds the upper gate of the temple of the Lord. He does much to fortify and secure the city. Verse 5, he defeats the Ammonites just as his father did. The latter part of verse 5, he has financial success and the Ammonites gave him that year 100 talents of silver, 10,000 cores of wheat, 10,000 of barley, and they paid him the same amount in the second and third years. Jotham becomes very mighty and he becomes wealthy. But Jotham’s response to his success is very different than his father’s. He does not repeat the sins of his father, he doesn’t repeat the sins of his father. That should give us hope.

Many times we feel like if you just knew my background, if you knew who my dad was, if you knew my mom, we can sort of in a fatalistic way think we’re doomed to repeat their sins, but note what happens. God is at work in Jotham’s life. He does not repeat the sins of his father.

Why not? What kept Jotham faithful, and ultimately why was he blessed? The defining verse of Jotham’s reign is verse 6: So Jotham became mighty because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God. In Hebrew, you can look at it, it means to direct his ways, or to fashion his ways, similar to if you were crossing a creek and you had to intentionally place your feet on a rock to get across safely. Jotham is intentional. He orders his ways before God, and that’s what keeps him faithful.

Do you ever need to order your steps? Plan your day? Sometimes on a Saturday in the Wells’ household we have to call a time-out, you know what I mean? There’s not a real schedule and so mid-morning things are kind of going awry. We have to call a time-out and say hey, here’s what we’re gonna do with today. Here’s how we’re gonna schedule it. Here’s how we’re gonna plan it. Why? Because downtime is typically not good time. It’s important to direct our steps.

Why is that spiritually? Because aimlessness does not lead to holiness. Aimlessness never leads to holiness. We are prone to wander. Think about it this way: We don’t drift toward the Lord, you’ll never drift toward holiness. We’ll never be able to set sail on the winds of your own heart and they just guide you to God. No, Jotham orders his steps before God. We must direct our ways to God; our mornings, our evenings, must be before the Lord.

Where does godliness fall in your plan for the day? And does your plan proceed accordingly? Now there’s a correlation between the habits that we have and the affections of our heart. The habits and our affections. And sometimes, think about it this way, if you’re here this morning and you feel that your heart is wandering from God, listen, sometimes our feet need to lead our heart. And that’s what happens with Jotham. He does not repeat the pride of his father. He has the humility to order his ways before the Lord, or ultimately, perhaps, to have his way ordered by the Lord.

Jotham reigns for 16 years and his reign ends with something quite notable. Look at verse 9: And Jotham slept with his fathers and they buried him in the city of David and Ahaz his son reigned in his place. Jotham is buried in the royal tombs, the tombs of the kings. There’s been a stretch of bad kings, where this has been left out of the end of their reign, and with Jotham there’s the exception. He’s, he has this noble burial, and that’s his legacy. His legacy is one of humility, faithfulness, and honor.

But it seems to have little impact on His people. Look at the end of verse 2: But the people still followed corrupt practices. Jotham reigns, he’s righteous, but it does not seem to impact His people.

Maybe you’re here this morning and you need that encouragement, and you think why isn’t my life having, making more of a difference of the kingdom of God? Why doesn’t it impact my brothers, my sisters, my children, all of those things? What’s wrong with me? And we see time and again in Scripture that people can be faithful and righteous and yet people around them still be hard-hearted. It takes the Lord to humble a heart. And we see Judah here is prideful.

And this moves us to our second point, and that is judgment and mercy in the life of Judah. Jotham orders his steps before God, but Judah is aimless and idolatrous. They continue to engage in pagan worship and practices. And their idolatry sets up the reign of King Ahaz, and with the reign of King Ahaz, the Lord humbles Judah.

Look at chapter 28, the reign of King Ahaz. We’re going to read verse 1, we’re going to read verse 1, and then we’ll look at verse 19, which really marks his reign: “Ahaz was 20 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned 16 years in Jerusalem, and he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord as his father David had done.” We’ll read to verse 2: “But he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made metal images to the Baals.” Then flip over to verse 19. Verse 19 is the defining verse, the reign of Ahaz: “For the Lord humbled Judah because of Ahaz, king of Israel, for he had made Judah act sinfully and had been very unfaithful to the Lord.” Ahaz was a wicked king, and God humbles Judah as a result.

We’ll pivot off of verse 19. Now don’t let the reference “king of Israel” in verse 19 throw you. There are places where Judah and Israel are still seen properly as one nation as the people of God and it seems that’s what the chronicler is doing here.

But Ahaz is wicked. In verses 2 through 4 we see his wickedness detailed. Let’s look at that. “He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and he made metal images for the Baals. He made offerings in the Valley of the son of Hinnom.” And look at this: “He burned his sons,” verse 3.

Child sacrifice was a common practice among the pagans. The Caananites, the Ammonites, they used to burn their children to the god Molech. You know what they believed about child sacrifice and burning their children? They actually believed that the fire purified their children. It was a monstrous act, an awful act, an abominable act.

And Ahaz repeats this practice, which is strictly forbidden in the Old Testament, in multiple places, specifically Deuteronomy chapter 12, verse 31, says this: “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates, they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.”

Verse 4: “Ahaz made offerings in the high places and under very green tree.” Those same green trees that the people of God used to rejoice under, under the reign of King Solomon, he now turns those into pagan shrines. Ahaz led the people even deeper into idolatry. There Ahaz is. There’s Judah. And so the Lord does something. And here’s where God takes center stage in the narrative.

Look at verse 5, chapter 28: “Therefore the Lord his God gave him into the king of Assyria, who defeated him, and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hand of the king of Israel, who struck him with great force.”

Now notice this, the beginning of verse 5, it says the Lord gave them over to Syria and to Israel. The chronicler is careful to note that it wasn’t the result of a numbers game or just poor tactics on the part of Ahaz. No, this was God’s doing. God gives them over. This is God’s action, God is at work. What is He doing? The people of Judah suffered devastating defeat.

Look at verses 6 through 8. Here’s the details: 120,000 Judahite soldiers were killed in one day. The king’s court is killed, his inner circle, the main arteries of the nation. Think about that. If the vice president is killed, secretary of state, secretary of defense. What that would do to a nation psychologically.

I remember looking at the footage of Benghazi several years ago and ambassador Chris Stevens, and what that did to us as a nation. What does it say? What would it say? If they can penetrate there, then there is no security.

200,000 relatives, wives, sons and daughters, were taken into captivity by Israel. Something of a small exile happens. And again, God gives them over, God gives them over. Not as an affirmation of Israel, but as a judgment on Judah. God humbles Judah in this massive defeat.

Now what does this show us? It shows us that God is the main player in this text, that God is the sovereign king who will overthrow idolatrous kingdoms. God judges Judah, and then there’s a surprising turn. The Lord has mercy on Judah.

In a dramatic act of mercy, God raises up a prophet. And it is an unlikely one at that. Wicked Israel, in wicked Israel, there’s a prophet and His name is Oded. Oded means restorer. And he interprets the victory not as a sign of God’s pleasure with Israel, but as God’s wrath against Judah, and he rebukes Israel for enslaving Judah.

So God gives them over to Syria and Israel. Israel comes in and they take captives, they enslave them, they rob them. And critical to this story is where they take them. They lead them captive and they return to Samaria.

Let’s look at Oded, the prophet’s rebuke, in verses 9 through 11, chapter 28: “But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded, and he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria and said to them ‘behold, because the Lord, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, He gave them into your hand. But you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to the heavens, and now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female as your slaves. Have you not sins of your own against the Lord your God? Now hear me and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.'”

Oded’s rebuke, he cites two transgressions: One, you people of Israel, you’ve killed them in a rage and now you’ve taken them captive, which is strictly forbidden in the Mosaic law. And he poses this question to Israel: Don’t you have your own sins to worry about? That’s a good question for all of us to contemplate. And he tells them what to do. He says repent, repent by returning them, return them because they are your fellow countrymen, they are your brothers.

And in verses 12 through 14 we seen a surprising turn with Israel, hard-hearted, pagan Israel listens to the prophet. Just this once, the leaders of Israel rise up, they rise up and they say, they greet the army and they say don’t bring them here to Samaria. We believe these words, we believe judgment is coming. We cannot have them here in Samaria. They stopped and they turned them away. God is going to judge us.

And then something remarkable happens that places a spotlight on God’s mercy. Remember that Judah’s wickedness led to their captivity, Judah’s wickedness led to their defeat. But more precisely, it was the wickedness of their king that led to their defeat and captivity. Judah has in Ahaz a wicked king. Judah has in Ahaz an impotent king. And when God raises up His prophet Oded, He does for Judah what their earthly king cannot do for them. God does for Judah what their earthly king cannot do for them.

And look at verse 15, spotlighting God’s mercy. The leaders of Israel listen and it says this: “And the men who’ve been mentioned by name rose and took the captives and with the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them, they clothed them. They gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys. And they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the City of Palm Trees, and then they returned to Samaria.”

Amazingly, the leaders of the tribe respond, and there’s this public gathering before the princes and before all the assembly of contrition and repentance. And look at what they do: They feed them, they clothe them, they bind their wounds, they care for them, and they return them to their kin at Jericho, the City of Palms. What’s this picture here? This is not just kindness and mercy, but it’s extraordinary kindness and mercy and generosity, and for a moment, wicked Israel becomes repentant Israel, and wicked Judah becomes recipients of God’s mercy. What a great picture. Think about that. The people of God embodying repentance and mercy.

What should we be as a people? We should embody repentance and mercy.

But there is a greater picture than that. Notice there is no hint of merit here. Not from Israel, not from Judah. This is solely the work of God on display. Think about this for a second. Who restores Judah’s possessions? Who saves them from death? Who delivers them from slavery? Who binds up their wounds? Who restores them from poverty? You say Israel, yes, but ultimately who? God.

Let’s contrast Ahaz and God for a moment. Ahaz, in his hardness and wickedness, leads the people into idolatry, death, and captivity, and in his impotence he cannot deliver them. God in His mercy and righteousness saves them from death, delivers them from slavery, and restores them with generosity. I ask you, who is the real king here? The clear message to the readers and to King Ahaz is it is the Lord who blesses, it is the Lord who humbles, it is the Lord who has mercy, it is the Lord who has compassion, it is the Lord who delivers.

And one would think this message would get to King Ahaz. Maybe he had a front row seat for this. And one wonders what did Ahaz do with this knowledge? What did he do in seeing this? Will he order his steps before God? Will he see a way forward through the actions of a sovereign and merciful God? Does Ahaz make God his king?

This leads to the last point, and that is futility and idolatry in the reign of Ahaz. Futility of Ahaz continues. Edom invades Judah and carries away even more exiles. And then come the Philistines. The Philistines come in and they invade the cities and the villages. And Ahaz has trouble from Assyria as well. He is surrounded. What’s he going to do?

Let’s look at verse 20 and 21 of chapter 28. Here’s what it says: “So Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him. For Ahaz took a portion from the house of the Lord and the house of the king and of the princes and gave tribute to the king of Assyria but it did not help him.”

Ahaz had sought to appease the king of Assyria, among other things stealing gold and silver from the temple of the Lord and giving it to him as a tribute, but it ultimately backfires on him. And you would think in doing so, you would think in the midst of that, that would humble Ahaz. But it doesn’t humble him. He doubles down. Look at verses 22 through 23. They tell us this: “In the time of distress he became even more faithless to God.”

We might think that sometimes trials and trouble will automatically humble us, but not so. Trials and trouble in life either tend to lead us to anger and frustration or to humility.

It doesn’t lead Ahaz to humility. What does he do? What does Ahaz do? Rather than humbling himself, he says here’s what I’ll do. My gift to Tiglath-Pileser didn’t work, and so here’s what I’ll do. I’ll make offerings to the gods of Assyria; they’ll help me, and I’ll sacrifice to the gods of Syria. And he shuts up the doors to the temple and he makes altars in every corner of Jerusalem and in every city in Judah he makes high places and makes offerings to the foreign gods. This is an extreme makeover of the worst kind, right? He’s emptying Judah of its identity and trying to exchange it for a pagan identity. And the Scriptures tell us in the latter part of verse 23 they were the ruin of him and all Israel.

Ahaz sought in foreign nations and foreign gods what he should have sought in the one true God. It’s a picture of idolatry.

What should Ahaz have sought in the one true God? Help, compassion, security, and mercy. And notice he seeks those things in idols and foreign kings.

King Ahaz needs a king, and instead he runs to idols. This is much like our hearts. These reigns reveal the heart of man, making idols.

Listen to Psalm 115. Psalm 115 mocks the idols of the nations, verses 4 through 7. “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.” Listen to what it says. “They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but not see. They have ears but do not hear. Noses but do not smell. They have hands but do not feel. Feet but do not walk. And they do not make a sound in their throat. And those who make them become like them, and so do all who trust in them.”

What’s the verdict of the psalmist? Idols are powerless, they are lifeless, they cannot help us. They are not sovereign, they are not just, they are not righteous, they are not merciful, and Ahaz ran after them.

G. K. Beale says about verse 8 “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”

We cannot get away with idolatry because in seeking to form other gods, our gods end up forming us. We’ll see it so many times in the rejection of the one true God, how going after something else, whether that be power, sexual freedom, whatever it might be, it ends up emptying you, emptying your heart, hollowing out your life. Why? Because idols are lifeless, and they cannot give us the mercy we need and the peace we crave, only the living God can do that.

The legacy of Ahaz is that he has ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see, feet but he cannot direct them, and Ahaz seeks in people or things to give what only the living God can give. He needs a king, he turns to an idol.

There’s one other thing the chronicler is careful to point out about the reign of King Ahaz. In verse 27, if you’ll look at it: “And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city in Jerusalem, for they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel.”

Ahaz does not receive this royal burial, but he’s left outside of the tombs. Having not made God his king, he does not receive a kingly burial and instead of blessing and honor, his legacy is idolatry, unfaithfulness, and dishonor.

Jotham and Ahaz. We’d do well to compare their very different lives and their very different endings.

What are some practical points that we can take away from this? I’ll give you a few. One, that aimlessness leads to idolatry. We need to take intentional steps of humbling ourselves before God and ordering the habits of our lives before God, before His promises, before His commands, looking to them, knowing that a life lived before God brings blessing and brings honor.

And obviously the second point would be idolatry leads to futility. Idols are simply earthly things that we anoint in our search for help for security, for mercy, for salvation. And that always ends in ruin. We don’t need an idol, we need a king.

The main takeaway here, though, is not just practical points. It has to do with who God is as our king. As it turns out, there is a straight line that we can draw through Chronicles and that is to Christ. Perhaps the details of God’s mercy on Judah in that instance reminded you of another story. There’s a very similar, is it not, to the story of the good Samaritan that Jesus tells us. Jesus more than likely actually had this story in His mind as the backdrop in telling it. God’s mercy to an undeserving Judah through the most unlikely instrument, ultimately pointing to His mercy to us.

D. A. Carson asked this question: Who is the ultimate good Samaritan? And he points out the greater context of Luke 10, that when Jesus tells this story, He’s actually on His way to the cross. As our king, Christ orders His steps to the cross and in doing so He does not pass us by, but He meets us on the road. He meets us on the road and He saves us from death, He delivers us from slavery, He binds our wounds, He takes away our poverty, and gives us His riches.

It is we who have been sinful and wicked. It is we who have filled our little kingdoms with idols. It is we who have not ordered our steps. It is we who are left on the road of destruction. And it is Christ our king who meets us on that road. He meets us on that road and delivers us by His death and by His resurrection.

And so the question before you this morning is who is your king? Who is your king?

The earthly kings we find in Chronicles are ultimately intended to press this question upon us and to point us to Christ the king, whose blessing and honor, Jesus’ blessing and honor, is forever because it lies not in a royal tomb, but an empty tomb.

May He be our help and may He be our salvation.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we are indeed grateful for the gift of Christ, our King, to us, that He would meet us on this road, that He would redeem us, would save us from our sins, would break the chains of darkness, and deliver us from evil. We thank you that He is a sure foundation. Wherever we find ourselves in the midst of struggle, we can come to him and seek Him as our rock and our refuge and deliverer. O Lord we pray that You would give us eyes to see, eyes to see in You, our salvation. And we ask this is Jesus’ name. Amen.