Week 4, Part 2: Lessons from the Prophets
Day 4 – Isaiah: The Backdrop
Today’s post is a little different. It is simply a bit, okay, maybe a lot, of background information on the book of Isaiah – but it is very important. Not only does it set the scene for this book, but for others as well. So, without further ado, here goes:
According to Isaiah 1:1, the events and the vision from the Lord revealed in the book of Isaiah took place during the reign of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. It was not one of Judah’s best moments. In fact, this period of their history serves as a good reminder that when you let the seemingly little things go, they just grow bigger and bigger until you have an enormous mess on your hands.
King Uzziah (II Kings 15 and II Chronicles 26) was for the most part a good king. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord. II Chronicles tells us that God prospered him as long as he sought the Lord. In fact, it says that he was “marvelously helped” until he was strong. But then, after success in battle, he began to think more highly of himself than he should have and he did a very foolish thing. He went into the temple and tried to burn incense on the altar of incense. That was not his place. Azariah the priest and eighty other valiant priests went in after him to stop him, but he became angry with them. As Uzziah stood there with a censor in his hand, leprosy came up in his forehead. When the priests saw it they got him out of there as quickly as possible. The Bible says, “Yea, himself hasted to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.” Just as Proverbs warns us, Uzziah’s pride had become his destruction. One other fact about Uzziah’s reign is troublesome. Although he worshiped the Lord, he did not tear down the high places, and the people were worshiping there. Even in the passages that we have been studying regarding the fatherless we see over and over that God had a specific place that he appointed for worship. It was not the high places.
Because of his leprosy, Uzziah could no longer live in his house or judge the land, this fell to his son, Jotham.
Jotham comes onto the scene in II Kings 15:32-38 and II Chronicles 27. After his father’s death, he began to reign at the age of twenty-five. While his father reigned fifty-two years, Jotham reigned only sixteen. He did right in the eyes of the Lord. In fact, II Chronicles tells us that he became mighty because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God. It also tells us, that he did right like his father, bud he did not enter into the temple. Everything seems good, except that he did not remove the high places and the people “did yet corruptly”.
Jotham also had a son. His name was Ahaz. Ahaz was a mess. He began to reign at the age of sixteen and would reign for the same number of years. We get a lot of detail about his reign, not only in II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28, but also in Isaiah 9 and 10. Ahaz did not do right in the sight of the Lord. Instead, he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He made molten images for Baalim. He burnt incense in the valley of Hinnom. He even burnt his children in the fire. He sacrificed in the high places and under every green tree. So, God sent his enemies upon him: the king of Syria and the King of Israel. According to II Kings, they were not able to overcome him, though we know from II Chronicles that Israel killed 120,000 people in one day, all of them valiant men, and took 200,000 people captive. This could have been disastrous, except for a prophet named Obed.
Obed knew that God used Israel to punish Judah for their wickedness, but he also knew that if Israel kept their brethren as captives they would be in just as much trouble. So, he went out and persuaded the men returning from war to let the captives free. Israel does a very interesting thing here. They didn’t just let them go, they took of their spoil and clothed all that were naked, and gave them shoes and food and drink and then anointed them, put all the feeble on asses and brought them to Jericho.
While all of this was going on, Edom and the Philistines were raiding other parts of Judah. So, Ahaz came up with another brilliant idea – he called on the Assyrian king for help and gave him presents to entice him. That doesn’t sound like too far-fetched of an idea, however, the problem was that the presents that he gave him were the vessels and treasures out of the house of the Lord. So, he stole from God and gave the king these gifts and then we read those dreadful words: “but he helped him not”. (I’m sure we could make some personal applications from that event!)
Eventually, the Assyrians did help and they killed the King of Israel, just as the book of Isaiah said they would. Even so, Ahaz was not a happy camper.
In his anger, he assumed that the God of Israel had not come to their aid. He broke up all of the remaining vessels from the temple and shut the doors and made altars throughout the city. Don’t get excited, he wasn’t building altars to the God of Israel, he was building them to the gods of Damascus. After the Assyrian victory, Ahaz went up to Damascus and decided that if the god of Syria had been so helpful to them, he should worship them too. He saw an altar there and had replicas made and set up throughout Judah. (He obviously did not see that God had intervened on the behalf of so many people through Obed, nor did he see it was not the gods of Damascus that were helping Syria, but rather the hand of his own God’s judgment against Judah that had caused his defeat.) According to II Kings, not only did he choose to build these altars, but he also commanded the sacrifices that were to be offered to God be offered upon them, thus leading his people further and further into sin. He chose to worship the gods that smote him, but “they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel”.
Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, was a different story all together. He learned from the results of his father’s sins. He brought Judah back to where God wanted it to be. It was Hezekiah who took Senacharib’s attempts to demoralize the people and to discredit God before the Lord in prayer, and it was he who saw the victory over the enemy.
So, there is our backdrop. But no forum post would be complete without a few questions to provoke a little thought, so:
What can we learn from the lives of these kings?
Are we guilty of “stealing” things that belong to the Lord only to find that the alliance we had hoped to make comes to nothing?
Have we chosen to worship gods that have smitten us? Can you give an example of this?
Up Next: Week 4 Part 2: Lessons from the Prophets – Day 5: Isaiah and the Fatherless
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Also Check out Rachel Miller’s Book: The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption