Human sacrifice

Moses warned the people of Israel against idolatry before they entered the Promised Land. Moses said, “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God 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” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31). “The religion of the Canaanites was extremely corrupt. It was characterized by the practices of human sacrifice, ritual prostitution and homosexuality, and self-mutilation. These religions taught that these practices were prevalent among their gods, so it is not surprising that the people became equally debased” (note on Judges 2:13). Israel’s disobedience and unfaithfulness to God began around the time of Joshua’s death. It says in Judges 2:7-13:

And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

Israel’s abandonment of God meant that they were making sacrifices to other gods. The Hebrew word that is translated abandoned in Judges 2:13, ʿazab (aw-zabˊ) “carries a technical sense of ‘completely and permanently abandoned’ or ‘divorced’” (H5800). It says in Judges 8:33, “As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.”

Israel’s further disobedience and oppression led to an acknowledgment of their sin (Judges 10:10) and a temporary reprieve from the misery of their circumstances. It says in Judges 10:15-16, “And the people of Israel said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.” In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase his soul was grieved is used instead of the words became impatient. The Hebrew words nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) qatsar (kaw-tsarˊ) have to do with the condition of one’s soul and suggest that God’s vitality was diminished because of the trouble his people were getting into. God was becoming impatient in the sense that he wanted to change the Israelites’ situation because of the effect it was having on him. It was literally breaking his heart (H5315/H7114).

God’s decision to use Jephthah to deliver the people of Israel from the Ammonites may have been a result of his lack of better choices. It says in Judges 11:1, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute.” One thing that is clear about Jephthah’s character is that he wanted to be admired by others. Judges 11:1-11 states:

Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him. After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.” But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

The terms of Jephthah and the Gileadites agreement were spoken before the LORD at Mizpah. Mizpah is the location where Jacob and his uncle Laban made a covenant with each other and said that God would be a witness between them when they were out of each other’s sight (Genesis 31:49). The Hebrew word from which Mizpah originated, tsaphah (tsaw-fawˊ) “occurs for the first time in the Old Testament in the so-called Mizpah Benediction: ‘The Lord watch between me and thee…’ (Genesis 31:49). The meaning in this context is ’to watch’ with a purpose, that of seeing that the covenant between Laban and Jacob was kept. Thus, the statement by Laban is more of a threat than a benediction. Similarly, when God’s ‘eyes behold the nations’ (Psalm 66:7), it is much more than a casual look. Perhaps in most uses, the connotation of ‘to spy’ would be the most accurate” (H6822). The lack of trust between Jephthah and the elders of Gilead was probably rooted in the harsh treatment that Jephthah received from his brothers (Judges 11:2) and the fact that he had been living in Tob with what is described as “worthless fellows” (Judges 11:3), for likely many years.

We know that Jephthah was a man of faith because he is mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-34, which states, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” It says that Jephthah was made strong out of weakness and became mighty in war. The Greek words that are translated were made strong and became mighty indicate that Jephthah was transformed from a weak and ineffective leader to a strong and mighty warrior. Jephthah initially sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites trying to avoid a war, but the king of the Ammonites didn’t listen to Jephthah (Judges 11:28) and it says in Judges 11:29, “then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah.” The Spirit of the LORD made it possible for Jephthah to do what he needed to. The Greek word that is translated were made strong in Hebrews 11:34, endunamoō (en-doo-nam-oˊ-o) means “to empower” (G1743) and is derived from the words en (en) “denoting (fixed) position (in place, time, or state)” (G1722) and dunamoo (doo-nam-oˊ-o) which means “to enable” (G1412). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) which means “force (literal or figurative); specifically miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)…Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours” (G1411).

Jephthah may or may not have been aware that the Spirit of the LORD had come upon him. As Jephthah crossed over into the territory of the Ammonites, it says in Judges 11:30-31, “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” After Jephthah subdued the Ammonites, Judges 11:34-40 tells us:

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

“Jephthah’s vow has caused much concern for Bible scholars. He may have understood the possibility of human sacrifice when he originally made the vow and may have performed such an act. A vow was not to be broken (Judges 11:35, cf. Numbers 30:2), and Jephthah kept his (Judges 11:39). The precise nature of the vow, however is debated. Jephthah certainly must have been familiar with God’s prohibitions regarding human sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10), and it seems inconceivable that one who was empowered by the Spirit of the Lord in a unique way (Judges 11:29) would make such a diabolical vow that directly contradicted God’s explicit command, especially in the context of seeking God’s help (Judges 11:30). It was customary for women to greet returning warriors (Exodus 15:20; 1 Samuel 18:6), and therefore it is suggested that if Jephthah had originally intended a human sacrifice, he would not have been surprised and distraught when his only child (Judges 11:34) came out to meet him and became the object of his vow (Judges 11:35). Jephthah may have intended something other than a literal burnt sacrifice, or his apprehension concerning the battle with the Ammonites may have caused him to word his vow hastily. Even if the vow had included the possibility of human sacrifice, Jephthah may have dedicated his daughter to the service of the Lord instead, equating that with fulfilling his vow. Literal burnt offerings symbolized complete dedication to the Lord in that the sacrifice was entirely consumed (Leviticus 1:9, 13; 6:22, 23). It seems unlikely that Jephthah would have been commended for his faith (see Hebrews 11:32) if he had taken his daughter’s life and broken God’s law in such a serious matter. The statement that ‘she had never known a man’ follows Jephthah’s fulfilling the vow (Judges 11:39) and would be meaningless if he had taken her life. It may refer instead to the fact that, as one who was wholly given to the service of the Lord, she would have to continue in her virginity. That would explain why she spent two months bemoaning her virginity (Judges 11:37) rather than her abruptly shortened life” (note on Judges 11:29-40).

Jephthah tore his clothes, a sign of mourning, and told his daughter, “You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me” (Judges 11:35) when she came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. The Hebrew word that is translated trouble, akar (aw-karˊ) means figuratively “to disturb or afflict” (H5916). Jacob used the word akar after his two sons killed all the males in the city of Shechem because of the rape of their sister Dinah. Genesis 34:30 states, “Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” Like Jacob, Jephthah blamed his daughter for the outcome of his mistake. Jephthah didn’t seem to regret that he had promised God that he would offer up for a burnt offering “whatever comes out from the doors of my house” (Judges 11:31), but rather that his daughter happened to be the one that came through the doors to greet him and to celebrate his victory.

The commendable thing to note about Jephthah’s agonizing situation was that he kept his vow (Judges 11:39). It says in Numbers 30:1-2, “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath, to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” A vow was “an oral, voluntary promise to give or do something as an expression of consecration or devotion to the service of God” (H5087). According to the Mosaic Law, once a man’s vow was made, it could not be revoked under any circumstances. When Abraham’s faith was tested, God told him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). Genesis 22:9-10 tells us, “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” Abraham intended to go through with sacrificing his son. “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (Genesis 22:11-12). God spared Isaac’s life because Abraham demonstrated his willingness to do whatever God told him to. The common theme between Abraham and Jephthah’s situations was obedience to the word of God.

After the angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, Genesis 22:13-14 tells us, “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’; and it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.’” The intended substitutionary nature of sacrifices was made evident in the Mosaic Law through the Day of Atonement. A bull for a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering, and two make goats were required to make atonement for the priest and the people of Israel. Leviticus 16:6-10 states:

“Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.”

The name Azazel means “the scapegoat” (H5799). After the sin offerings had been made, Aaron was instructed to lay both of his hands on the head of the scapegoat, “and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself in a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21-22).

The Day of Atonement was the only time the priest could enter the Holy Place and come before the mercy seat where God would appear to him (Leviticus 16:2). The book of Hebrews explains that Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter could have been avoided if he had understood what Abraham did, that Jesus would established a better covenant through his substitutionary death on the cross that would be able to “purify the conscience from dead works” (Hebrews 9:14). One of the flaws of the Mosaic Law was that it offered the people of Israel a temporary solution to the problem of sin. It says in Hebrews 9:9-10 that “according to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” Reformation is a reference to the dispensation of Christianity. The Greek word diorthosis (dee-orˊ-tho-sis) means “to straighten thoroughly, rectification” (G1357). The correction that Jesus made was to eliminate the need for perpetual sacrifices. Hebrews 10:10-14 tells us that we have been sanctified, made holy, “through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he had perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”

Miracles

Jesus’ ministry began with a great display of the power he possessed as the Son of God. This supernatural activity drew a lot of attention to Jesus’ ministry and resulted in both good and bad circumstances that he had to deal with throughout the rest of the three years he ministered to God’s chosen people. Matthew described the start of Jesus’ ministry this way.

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had palsy; and he healed them. (Matthew 4:23-24)

Jesus’ ability to cure any and every disease by supernatural means was recognized as a sign of his deity. Not since the time of Elijah and Elisha, hundreds of years earlier, had God’s people seen such a display of God’s power. Mark’s account of the launch of Jesus’ ministry focused on the authority with which he worked his miracles. He said,”And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him” (Mark 1:27).

One of the keys to understanding Jesus’ approach to his ministry was the connection made between sin and disease in the mind of God’s people. The Mosaic Law stated that disease was a consequence of sin. Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt, Moses told them “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26).

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of Jesus power, authority, and compassion for the sick was displayed when he healed a paralyzed man who was let down through the rooftop tiling by his friends so that he could get close enough to Jesus to be healed. Luke’s gospel states:

And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason he in your hearts? Whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that he may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. (Luke 5:20-25)

John’s account of the start of Jesus’ ministry provided a timeline of the first three days of his activities and recorded that only a few days into his ministry, Jesus declared his intent to rise from the dead after he was crucified. This final miracle was to be the ultimate sign to the Jews that Jesus was in fact their Messiah. After cleansing God’s temple, the Jews confronted Jesus about his unorthodox behavior. It says in John’s gospel, “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:18-21).

On the run

After the wise men left Bethlehem, Jesus’ father was directed to leave Judea, the Roman territory under King Herod’s jurisdiction. It says in Matthew 2:13-14, “And when they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. Then he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt.” Subsequent to their departure, Herod ordered all the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger to be killed (Matthew 2:16). Clearly, Herod believed the wise men’s report that the Jewish Messiah had been born and was concerned about the threat Jesus (as a young child) posed to his kingdom.

Herod the Great ruled over Judea from 37-4 B.C., so we know that Joseph’s family left the area sometime before 4 B.C. While Joseph was living in Egypt, he received another message from the Lord, “Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee” (Matthew 2:20-22). Archelaus reigned from 4 B.C. – 6 A.D. Therefore, Joseph and his family had to have returned to Judea sometime before 6 A.D. Although we don’t know the exact dates of Joseph’s departure and return to Judea, it can be assumed that his family was on the run from the Roman authorities no more than a decade because Luke reported that Jesus’ family was living in Nazareth when he was twelve years old (Luke 2:42, 52).

The instructions Joseph received from the angels that appeared to him in his dreams, “Arise, and take the young child and his mother…” (Matthew 2:13, 20) may have been spiritual commands that actually came from Jesus, but were delivered through angels because he was too young to speak for himself. All the other instances in the New Testament of the use of the Greek verb egeiro (eg – i – ro) are associated with Jesus’ ministry, e.g. “Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thine house” (Matthew 9:6). Jesus’ power and authority were not temporarily assigned to him during his three-and-a-half year ministry on earth, but were always available to him, even before he was the child that was born to Joseph and Mary. One of the most likely reasons Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus was because Herod understood that even before Jesus could speak, his spiritual authority exceeded his own.

Power

In ancient times, the hand was a symbol of power. To be given into someone’s hands meant you were dominated by them and under their control (3709). To deliver someone out of another’s hands meant you released him from the other’s dominion or rule over him. One of the ways kings sought to increase their power, or at least their appearance of power, was to take other nations captive and rule over their people so that the size of their kingdom increased, making it seem as though they had become more powerful.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire existed for 300 years from approximately 911 B.C. to 612 B.C., during which time its population peaked and its territory expanded across more than a million square miles. The Neo-Assyrian Empire reached its greatest height politically and militarily under the reign of Sargon II who brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel. Sargon’s son Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and conquered 46 of its strongest cities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.).

When Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered the fenced cities of Judah, it says in 2 Chronicles 32:1 that he “thought to win them for himself.” Sennacherib wanted to be the dominating power over Judah and Jerusalem so that he could claim himself to be their king. Sennacherib not only believed he was the most powerful man in the world, but he also believed he was more powerful than any god, including the God of the Israelites.

It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:17, “He wrote also letters to rail on the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, As the gods of the nations of other lands have not delivered their people out of mine hand, so shall not the God of Hezekiah deliver his people out of mine hand.” The Hebrew word translated rail, charaph means to pull off or to expose as by stripping (2778). Another way of saying what Sennacherib was trying to do was to bring shame on God, to ruin his reputation.

Sennacherib was a very powerful man, and because of his position as the king of the Assyrian Empire, he was the most powerful man in the world in 701 B.C. His claim that no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of his hand (2 Chronicles 32:15) was partially true, but to compare God’s  ability to that of an idol was a huge mistake. God intervened in the situation and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night, while everyone was sleeping (2 Kings 19:35). It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:21, “So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that come forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.”

A great king

King Uzziah of Judah was probably the most successful king from a standpoint of maintaining his popularity and the productivity of his nation. His reign of 52 years was marked with notable accomplishments and he was consistent in his program of development. Unlike kings David and Solomon, Uzziah did not amass a great fortune or take numerous wives. He was a man of the people and was respected far and wide.

King Uzziah sought direction from the LORD through the prophet Zechariah (2 Chronicles 26:5). Zechariah was what was known as a seer. Zechariah had the ability to see things from God’s perspective. He understood what was going on from a spiritual perspective and could identify problems that needed Uzziah’s attention.

One of king Uzziah’s main areas of focus was Judah’s military. Uzziah engaged in military conflicts in order to solidify and secure Judah’s borders. It says in 2 Chronicles 26:6-7 that “he went forth and warred against the Philistines…and God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gur-baal, and the Mehunims.” As a result of these conquests, Uzziah’s reputation spread as far as Egypt “for he strengthened himself exceedingly” (2 Chronicles 26:8).

Uzziah’s military consisted of approximately 300,000 men who were well equipped and experienced in modern warfare. It says that Uzziah “made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and up on the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal” (2 Chronicles 26;15). In addition to this, king Uzziah received supernatural help from God. Most likely, the LORD’s heavenly host fought alongside Uzziah’s army conquering their spiritual enemies at the same time that physical warfare was going on.

Uzziah’s success eventually got the best of him. It says in 2 Chronicles 26:16, “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense.” The Hebrew word translated lifted up, gabowahh means to be arrogant (1364). Uzziah thought he was above the law, that he could worship the LORD whenever and however he pleased. He did not need to follow the methods dictated by the LORD.

Uzziah became very angry with the priests when they tried to stop him, “and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar” (2 Chronicles 26:19). From that time forward, Uzziah was banned from the temple and was forced to live under quarantine for the rest of his life.

Power

It is recorded in 2 Kings 15:1 that Azariah, a.k.a. king Uzziah, son of Amaziah king of Judah began his reign in the 27th year of Jeroboam king of Israel. Technically, this is correct, but, Azariah’s 52 year reign included a 25 year co-regency with his father. Amaziah was most likely in captivity and/or exile during this period, so his son Azariah (Uzziah) had responsibility for running the kingdom. Therefore, at the age of 16, just two years after Jeroboam came into power, Azariah began a 52 year reign over the kingdom of Judah.

The length of Azariah’s reign is the longest of any of the Israelite kings and its timing was significant because it ended within two decades of Israel being taken into captivity by Syria (a.k.a. Assyria). During the time when Jeroboam reigned over Israel and Azariah ruled the kingdom of Judah, 792 B.C. to 753 B.C., the two kingdoms prospered and restored their lost territory to an extent not seen since the time of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:28). The nation of Israel may have actually been the strongest it had ever been during Jeroboam and Azariah’s reigns.

Although there is no documentation to prove it, it is believed that the kingdom of Israel had become completely secularized and worship in Jerusalem was merely ritual during this time period. A sign that Azariah’s leadership was self-serving, rather than based on devotion to God, was “the LORD smote the king, so that he was a leper” (2 Kings 15:5). Leprosy was considered to be a spiritual disease as well as a physical disease. Many who contracted it were thought to be cursed by God.

Toward the end of Azariah’s reign, Menahem, a ruthless tyrant, became king in Israel. It says of him in 2 Kings 15:16, “Then Menahem smote Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof from Tirzah: because they opened not to him, therefore he smote it; and all the women therein that were with child he ript up.” Menahem’s behavior was comparable to Hazael, king of Syria, who terrorized the people of Israel during the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:3).

Menahem entered into a contract with Pul the king of Assyria (a.k.a. Tiglath-Pileser III) in which he agreed to pay Pul 1,000 talents of silver in order to be left alone (2 Kings 15:19-20). Today, the contract would be worth approximately $22 million. In order to fulfill his obligation, Menahem taxed “the mighty men of wealth” 50 shekels each (2 Kings 15:20). This indicates there were 60,000 wealthy men in Israel at the time, a significant percentage of the population.

Balance of power

The divided kingdom of Israel made it possible for God to control his peoples’ destiny through a balance of power. Bassha’s evil influences on the people of Israel was counteracted by Asa’s reforms and dependence on God. King Ahab’s wicked deeds were offset by Jehoshaphat’s devotion to God and obedience to his word.

Jehu was made king of Israel at a time when the kingdom of Judah was extremely vulnerable. All the male descendants to the throne had been killed except one (2 Chronicles 22:10-11). Athaliah, the daughter of king Ahab, was reigning over the land of Judah while her grandson, Jehoash was hidden away in the temple of God (2 Chronicles 22:12).

Jehu’s cleansing of Israel began with the death of king Joram (2 Kings 9:24) and Jezebel (2 Kings 9:33), then he had all of Ahab’s seventy sons put to death (2 Kings 10:7). After that, Jehu dealt with the idolatry that had taken over the people’s hearts. Jehu’s first action was to befriend the leader of a conservative movement in Israel named Jehonadab (2 Kings 10:15). Jehu invited Jehonadab to participate in his effort to rid Israel of Baal worship. “And he said, Come with me, and see my zeal for the LORD. So they made him ride in his chariot” (2 Kings 10:16).

Jehu’s zeal for the LORD could have been described as righteous indignation over the Baal worship that Ahab had instigated. Ahab had gone so far as to build a temple for Baal in his capital city of Samaria (1 Kings 16:32). When Jehu called all the Baal worshippers to a solemn assembly, it says in 2 Kings 10:21, “And they came into the house of Baal; and the house of Baal was full from one end to the other.”

Jehu put and end to Baal worship in Israel (2 Kings 10:28), “but Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10:31). Jehu was not devoted to God. More than anything, Jehu wanted to punish Ahab for what he thought he had done wrong, compromise Israel’s position of power.

Jehu knew God, but he didn’t have a personal relationship with him. Jehu didn’t pray or ask the LORD for guidance. He merely carried out the assignment he was given to cut off the house of Ahab (2 Chronicles 22:7). Jehu’s zeal for the LORD served the purpose of restoring Israel to a position of power, but it didn’t last. The shift was only temporary until Jehoash was able to take the throne and reform the kingdom of Judah.

The coup

Athaliah’s six year reign over the kingdom of Judah symbolized the failure of achieving a united kingdom. Jehoshaphat and Ahab’s marriage alliance did more to ruin the kingdoms of Judah and Israel than it did to strengthen them. The primary problem with the alliance was that the secular kingdom of Israel had the dominant role. The fact that Jehoram’s wife Athaliah ended up ruling the kingdom of Judah shows that she was like her mother Jezebel, determined to turn the people away from God.

While Athaliah was reigning, the temple was shut down, indicating there was no formal worship of God. Jehoiada probably remained in his position of priest to ensure that Joash, the son of Ahaziah, was not discovered and killed by Athaliah. Joash was the only descendent of king David. His death would mean the messianic line was cut off and God’s Savior unable to come forth.

Joash was kept in hinding until he was seven years old, presumably because he wasn’t able to be king until he was old enough to understand his responsibility. At the age of seven, Joash couldn’t think logically or reason as an adult, so his capacity to rule over the people was limited. No doubt, Johoiada the priest played a prominent role in running the kingdom until Joash reached adulthood.

When it was time for Joash to become king, Johoiada brought in bodyguards to protect him and armed the priests to make sure no one got near him in the temple. “Then they brought out the king’s son, and put upon him the crown, and gave him the Testimony, and made him king. And Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and said, God save the king” (2 Chronicles 23:11).

Athaliah’s reaction showed that she viewed herself as the legitimate ruler of the kingdom of Judah. “When Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she came to the people into the house of the LORD…Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and said, Treason, Treason” (2 Chronicles 23:12-13).

Athaliah attained a position of power over the people of Judah, but she never gained their affection or loyalty. Her position as queen was obtained unlawfully and therefore, she had no authority to stop what was happening. “So they laid hands on her; and when she was come to the entering of the horse gate by the king’s house, they slew her there” (2 Chronicles 23:15).

Exercise for the soul

Physical exercise is a relatively new concept in America. If you remember Jack LaLanne, then you know that in the 1960’s there were not many people that believed they needed regular physical exercise and fitness centers were exclusive clubs for the rich and famous. The information age has turned the majority of people into couch potatoes that rarely break a sweat without an intentional effort. It takes work to keep your body strong, especially if you want to be active in your later years.

Speaking to the LORD in Psalm 138, David said, “In the day when I cried thou answeredest me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul” (Psalm 138:3). The word soul or nephesh in Hebrew is also translated as life and person (5315). The word nephesh is derived from the word naphash which means to breathe (5314), so you could say in one sense that naphash refers to having breath in you or being alive.

When David said that the LORD strengthened him with strength in his soul, he meant that the LORD gave him a sense of vitality and exuberance toward life. The Hebrew word translated strength is also translated as power, might, and boldness (5797). In order for David to be strong in his soul, he had to exercise, he had to do what the LORD instructed him to do in his word.

David not only listened to the LORD, he did what the LORD told him to do, even when it seemed impossible. David said, “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psalm 139:5-6). The word translated wonderful, paliy is derived from the word pala which means to be beyond one’s ability to do (6381). David did not let the thought of impossibility stop him from doing what the LORD asked him to do. David realized that “although something may appear impossible to man, it still is within God’s power” (6381).

The thing that motivated David to exercise his soul was an awareness that God knew and understood him completely. David said, “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).

Thinking of the LORD as the trainer of his soul, David was willing to yield his life to the expert. David knew that the LORD wanted him to be a mighty warrior on the inside as well as on the outside. “The Hebrew system of thought does not include the opposition of the terms ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ which are really Greek and Latin in origin. The Hebrew compares/contrasts ‘the inner self’ and ‘the outer appearance’ or, as viewed in a different context, ‘what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers.’ The goal of Scriptures is to make the inner and outer consistent (5315).

Power gone sour

Power is a force that can be used for good or evil. Typically, power can be obtained from a position that is held or a relationship that entitles an individual to use another’s power. In an effort to obtain power, some are willing to kill or usurp the power that belongs to another. The easiest way to get power is to develop a relationship with someone that already has it, for instance a relationship with Jesus Christ entitles you to use the authority of his name to conquer the devil (Acts 4:7).

Joab, the commander of David’s army, had power because of the position he held and because of his relationship with David. After Absalom revolted against David, Joab killed Absalom even though David had commanded him not to. As a result, David replaced Joab as the captain of his host (2 Samuel 19:13). Because of the power he had as the commander of the Israelite army, Joab was able to retain his position in spite of David’s attempt to replace him. Joab did so by killing Amasa, the new commander (2 Samuel 20:10).

In this situation, it could be said that Joab had too much power. Although he worked for David, David was unable to fire him. At the root of the problem was the conspiracy between David and Joab to kill Uriah. When Uriah refused to have sex with his wife after being brought home from the battle field, David wrote a letter to Joab. “And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die” (2 Samuel 11:15).

David used his power over Joab to force him to commit murder. Joab was merely following David’s command when he retreated and left Uriah to die. Therefore, his decision to kill Absalom was in a way a sign that he no longer trusted David’s judgement and he would decide for himself who should live or die by his sword.

Although it may have been better for Joab to follow his own conscience, he did not have the right to use the power of his position as commander of the army to undermine David’s authority. When Joab killed Amasa, he was attempting to come between David and the LORD, who was ultimately responsible for David’s actions, suggesting that David was not fit to be king. David’s position as king made him more powerful than Joab. David could have had Joab killed in order to remove him from his position, but he didn’t. David let Joab alone and didn’t attempt to replace him again.