Sunday, November 16, 2008

2 Chronicles 26-32: Four More Kings!

2 Chronicles continues to parallel the time span covered in 2 Kings, focusing on the lives of the kings of Judah. I'm kind of fascinated by this parallel narrative, so I'm going to continue to compare and contrast.

Uzziah. Or, um, Azariah.

King Uzziah is covered in 2 Chronicles 26. You won't find him if you look back to my coverage of 2 Kings, because he is called "Azariah" back there. We don't hear much about him, only 7 verses, and even that little bit is ambivalent. We're told that he is a good kind who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (15:3), but also that because he didn't destroy the altars in the "high places" (which are altars to God, but unauthorized -- there's only supposed to be the one alter in Jerusalem) God afflicted him with leprosy and he had to abdicate in favor of his son.

Here in Chronicles, you get a very positive picture of an able administrator who expanded agricultural production and defense and built fortifications and artilliary pieces, the big-budget military expenditures of the ancient world. After that, though, he has a confrontation with the high priest, whose name is... wait for it... "Azariah." God then afflicts him with leprosy during the argument, and he has to move out of the palace and abdicate his rule.

It's entirely possible that Azariah was an incredibly common name, and that both the civil and religious leaders could have both had that name or one much like it. But, it's hard not to wonder if this confusion of names is static in the historical record.


Jotham is dealt with in six verses of 2 Kings 15. He gets his own chapter in 2 Chronicles 27, but it's one of the shortest chapters we've seen so far. You get a brief portrait of another king who expanded Judah's influence, build towns and public works, and enjoyed military success.


Ahaz is covered in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28, and they tell stories with very different spins. In the Kings version, Ahaz is attacked by both Aram and Israel, and seeks help from the king of Assyria, who stomps on Aram and provides Judah some relief. Ahaz, impressed by Assyria's success, builds a new Assyrian-style temple in Jerusalem and conducts sacrifices there, an obvious no-no.

The Chronicles story casts Ahaz as a pathetic figure. Here, Judah is completely at Israel's mercy, but God makes the army of Israel play nice and give up their prisoners and plunder. When Ahaz turns to Assyria for help he gets no assistance, but is set upon by a new enemy to whom he has advertised his weakness. And instead of just borrowing Assyrian temple architecture, he actually turns to worshiping the Assyrian gods. The two Ahazes of Kings and Chronicles are not impossible to reconcile as two different takes on the same guy -- but it takes some real effort.


Of Hezekiah, too, we get very different depictions, but in this case they are not hard to reconcile. The 2 Kings 18-20 version focuses on his foreign policy, his successful resistance to Babylonian encroachment. In 2 Chronicles 29-32, you hear a little of this, but a lot more about his restoration of the Temple and of religious orthodoxy. Note that he gets six chapters all to himself. Hezekiah is a big shot!

His restoration of the Temple is kind of interesting. Ever since Moses -- hell, ever since Adam -- we've seen a regular rhythm of ebb and flow, where people fall away from God and then return to him, fall away and return, fall away and return, over and over and over. Hezekiah's religious revival could just be the 300th iteration of this pattern. But, you get the impression in Chronicles that the population as a whole has completely abandoned the practices of Moses, and that when the new king restores the Temple and the Levite priests, everything has to be reestablished from scratch. They aren't even able to celebrate Passover the first year, because no one remembers how and because there aren't enough priests. They end up having an ad hoc celebration several months later, and Hezekiah has to intercede with God because none of the people understand ritual purity and they are all practicing the sacrifices and ceremonies while they are completely unclean.

Hezekiah lives at the same time with, and interacts with, the prophet Isaiah. This makes sense: you've got a active, famous figure of religious revival coinciding with a big push to reform and reestablish the state religion. But the depth from which the religion needs to be salvaged really makes you wonder what was going on before them. Both Uzziah and Jotham are described as kings who "walk in the way of the Lord," and only the 16 year reign of bad King Ahaz is between them and Hezekiah. I'm unsure whether we're supposed to infer that worship had been on the skids for generations, despite the good behavior of many of the kings, or whether Ahaz was just so irreligious that worship according to the laws of Moses nearly disappeared under his watch.

Next Time: Only seven more kings! Only three more chapters!

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