Hurlbut's Story of the Bible  by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut

Three Kings and a Great Prophet

II Chronicles xxv: 1, to xxviii: 27; Isaiah vi.

dropcap image MAZIAH was the ninth of the kings of Judah, if the years of Athaliah's rule be counted as a separate reign. Amaziah worshipped the Lord, but he did not serve the Lord with a perfect heart. He gathered an army of three hundred thousand men, to make war on Edom, and bring its people again under the rule of Judah. He hired also an army from Israel to help him in this war; but a prophet said to him, "O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you against Edom, for the Lord is not with the people of Israel. But go with your own men, and be strong and brave; and the Lord will help you."

"But how will I get back the money that I have paid to the army of Israel?" said Amaziah to the prophet.

"Fear not," said the prophet; "the Lord is able to give you much more than you have lost."

Then Amaziah obeyed the Lord, and sent back the men of Israel to their own land, and went against the Edomites with the men of Judah. The Lord gave him a great victory in the land of Edom; Amaziah was cruel to the people whom he conquered, and killed very many of them in his anger. And when he came back from Edom, he brought with him the idol-gods of that land, and although they could not save their own people, Amaziah set them up for his own gods, and burned incense to them and bowed down before them. And when a prophet of the Lord came to him, and warned him that God was angry with him, and would surely punish him for this wickedness, Amaziah said to the prophet, "Who has asked you to give advice to the king? Keep still, or you will be put to death!" And the Prophet answered him, "I know that it is God's will that you shall be destroyed, because you will not listen to the word of the Lord."

Amaziah's punishment was not long delayed, for soon after this, he made war upon Joash, the king of Israel, whose kingdom was far greater and stronger than his own. We read the story of Joash in Story 90. The two armies met at Beth-shemesh, northwest of Jerusalem. Amaziah was beaten in a great battle, many of his men were slain, and Amaziah himself was taken prisoner by Joash, the king of Israel. Joash took the city of Jerusalem, and broke down the wall, and carried away all the treasures in the palace and in the Temple of the Lord. After this Amaziah lived fifteen years, but he never gained the power that he had lost. His nobles made a plan to kill him, and Amaziah fled away from the city to escape them. But they caught him, and slew him, and brought his body back to Jerusalem to be buried in the tombs of the kings. His reign began well, but it ended ill, because he failed to obey the word of the Lord.


The high-priest offers sacrifice in the temple

After Amaziah came his son Uzziah, who was also called Azariah. He was the tenth king of Judah. Uzziah was only sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he was king for fifty-two years. He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord during most of his reign. Uzziah found the kingdom weak and he made it strong, for the Lord helped him. He won back for Judah the land of the Philistines, the land of the Ammonites on the east of Jordan, and of the Arabians on the south. He built cities and made strong walls around them, with towers full of weapons for defence against enemies. He loved the fields, and planted trees and vineyards, and raised crops of wheat and barley.

But when Uzziah was strong and rich his heart became proud, and he no longer tried to do God's will. He sought to have the power of the high-priest as well as that of the king, and he went into the Holy Place in the Temple to offer incense upon the golden altar, which was allowed to the priests only. The high-priest Azariah followed Uzziah into the Holy Place with the other priests, and said to him:

"It is not for you to offer incense, O King Uzziah, nor to come into the Holy Place. This belongs to the priests alone. Go out of the Holy Place, for you have disobeyed the Lord's command; and it will not bring you honor, but trouble."

Uzziah was standing before the golden altar with a censer of incense in his hand. Instantly the white scales of leprosy rose upon his forehead. The priests saw in that moment that God had smitten Uzziah with leprosy; indeed, he felt it himself, and turned to leave the Holy Place. But they would not wait for him to go out; they drove him out, for the leper's presence made the house unholy. And from that day until he died, Uzziah was a leper. He could no longer sit as king, but his son Jotham took his place; nor was he allowed to live in the palace, but he stayed in a house alone. And when he died they would not give him a place among the tombs of the kings; but they buried him in a field outside. Jotham, the eleventh king, ruled after his father's death sixteen years. He served the Lord, but he did not stop his people from worshipping idols. He was warned by his father's fate, and was content to be a king, without trying at the same time to be a priest and to offer incense in the temple. God was with Jotham, and gave his kingdom some success.


Uzziah is smitten with leprosy

The next king, the twelfth, was Ahaz, who was the wickedest of all the kings of Judah. He left the service of God, and worshipped the images of Baal. Worse than any other king, he even offered some of his own children as burnt-offerings to the false gods. In his reign the house of the Lord was shut up, and its treasures were taken away, and it was left to fall into ruin. For his sins and the sins of his people, God brought great suffering upon the land. The king of Israel, Pekah, came against Ahaz, and killed more than a hundred thousand of the men of Judah, among them the king's own son. The Israelites also took away many more,—men, women, and children,—as captives. But a prophet of the Lord in Israel, whose name was Oded, came out to meet the rulers, and said to them:

"The Lord God was angry with Judah, and gave its people into your hand. But do you now intend to keep your brothers of Judah as slaves? Have not you also sinned against the Lord? Now listen to the word of the Lord, and set your brothers free and send them home."

Then the rulers of Israel gave clothing to such of the captives as were in need, and set food before them; and they sent them home to their own land, even giving to those that were weak among them asses to ride upon. They brought them to Jericho, in the valley of the Jordan, and gave them to their own people.

When the Edomites came against Judah, King Ahaz sent to the Assyrians, a great people far away, to come and help him. The Assyrians came, but they did not help him, for they made themselves the rulers of Judah, and robbed Ahaz of all that he had, and laid heavy burdens upon the land. At last Ahaz died, leaving his people worshippers of idols and under the power of the king of Assyria.

In the days of these three kings, Uzziah, Jotham and Ahaz, God raised up a great prophet in Judah, whose name was Isaiah. The prophecies that he spoke in the name of the Lord are given in the book of Isaiah. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah was a young man. One day, while he was worshipping in the temple, a wonderful vision rose suddenly before his sight. He saw the form of the Lord God upon a throne, with the angels around him. He saw also strange creatures called seraphim, standing before the throne of the Lord. Each of these had six wings. With two wings he covered his face before the glory of the Lord, with two wings he covered his feet, and with two he flew through the air to do God's will. And these seraphim called out to one another, "Holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"

And the young Isaiah felt the walls and the floor of the Temple shaking at these voices; and he saw a cloud of smoke covering the house. Isaiah was filled with fear. He cried out saying:

"Woe has come to me! for I am a man of sinful lips, and I live among a people of sinful lips: and now my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts!"

Then one of the seraphim took into his hand the tongs that were used in the sacrifices. He flew to the altar, and with the tongs took up a burning coal. Then he flew to the place where Isaiah was standing, and pressed the fiery coal to Isaiah's lips: and he said, "This coal from God's altar has touched your lips, and now your sin is taken away, and you are made clean."

Then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying: "Whom shall I send to this people? Who will bear the message of the Lord to them?"

And Isaiah said, "Here am I, Lord; send me!"

And the Lord said to Isaiah, "You shall be my prophet, and shall go to this people, and shall give to them my words. But they will not listen to you, nor understand you. Your words will do them no good, but will seem to make their hearts hard, and their ears heavy, and their eyes shut. For they will not hear with their ears, nor see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor will they turn to me and be saved."

And Isaiah said, "How long must this be, O Lord?"

And the Lord said:

"Until the cities are left waste without people, and the houses without men to live in them; and the land shall become utterly desolate; and the people shall be taken far away into another land. But out of all this there shall be a few people, a tenth part, to come back, and to rise like a new tree from the roots where the old tree has been cut down. This tenth part shall be the seed of a new people in the times to come."

By this Isaiah knew that, though his words might seem to do no good, yet he was to go on preaching, for long afterward a new Judah should arise out of the ruins of the old kingdom, and should serve the Lord.

Isaiah lived for many years, and spoke the word of the Lord to his people until he was a very old man. He preached while four kings, perhaps also a fifth, were ruling. Some of these kings were friendly, and listened to his words: but others were not willing to obey the prophet and do the will of God; and the kingdom of Judah gradually fell away from the worship of the Lord, and followed the people of the Ten Tribes in the worship of idols.