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Sermon preached on 2 Kings 15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 09/06/2020 in Novato, CA.
Our text today gives us a whirlwind of kings! We might be tempted to want to do a sermon on each of these kings. But I’m going to instead keep our general pace because the book of Kings here obviously gives us this whirlwind for a reason. In fact, what we find is a helpful contrast between the circumstances in Israel versus Judah. While we learn about eight different kings here, Judah only has two during this timeframe while Israel has six. Judah experiences a relatively stable period compared to a period of great upheaval and unrest in Israel. Other points of comparison can also be seen. As we compare these circumstances, we will recognize that behind them all are the providential plans of God who is always faithful and true to his word and character – for he cannot deny himself.
Our sermon titled reflects the theme for today, “So It Came to Pass”. That’s from verse 12 where it references God’s promise that he kept to Jehu that his sons would sit on the throne unto the fourth generation. That is also my first point for us to consider today. Verse 12 notes in the context of King Zechariah’s death that the dynasty of Jehu’s house came to an end. But is noted positively, saying, “This was the promise of the LORD that he gave to Jehu, ‘Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.’ And so it came to pass.” This passage records how God faithfully kept his promise to Jehu.
Recall back to that promise. God made that promise to Jehu back in 2 Kings 10:30. This was God’s reward to Jehu for his faithful obedience to God who had raised up him with a mission. God commissioned Jehu to annihilate the wicked house of Ahab and Jezebel and to rid the nation of Baal worship. Jehu succeeded in both those tasks. God was pleased in this regard and made a sure promise to Jehu that his house would reign in Israel unto the fourth generation of his sons. While such a blessing from God was not nearly as glorious as how God had promised to David that his house would reign over an everlasting kingdom, it nonetheless was a good promise to Jehu. And God kept that promise – it came to pass.
Let me add that not only did God promise and keep this promise to Jehu, but Israel enjoyed its longest period of stability under his dynasty. Israel really only had two stable houses for dynasties. The house of Omri which had four kings over an approximately forty-five year period. And the house of Jehu which had five kings over an approximately ninety year period. And while the house of Omri suffered great troubles its entire time with the Syrians, the house of Jehu was able to finally gain substantial victory and relief from the Syrians. So, in Israel’s history, God being true to his word to Jehu, resulted in a grand period of stability for Israel. In contrast, the rest of Israel’s royal history was full of conspiracies and treason – of which we see a lot of in today’s passage.
We might also note that this promise to Jehu came despite the fact that his obedience did not include getting rid of the golden calf idolatry that his royal predecessor Jeroboam son of Nebat had instituted. Back in chapter 10, that point was made right alongside the promise God made to Jehu. The sense you get is that if Jehu had also dealt with the golden calves, then maybe God might have granted his dynasty to reign even longer. But Jehu didn’t get rid of them, nor did any of his descendants, including his great-great grandson Zechariah that is mentioned here. Verse 9 tells us this so that we don’t forget that God hadn’t forgotten about this. Despite all the blessing God gave Israel during the Jehu dynasty, such kindness did not lead them to greater repentance. Even after the height of such blessing came in King Jeroboam II of the house of Jehu who ruled forty-one years, still Israel carried on in their sins, and still didn’t get rid of the golden calves. Finally, Jehu’s fourth generation of sons takes the throne, and what could then be considered as a sort of the bare minimum for God to keep his promise – this Zechariah is only allowed to reign for six months.
So then, let’s next move in our second point and consider the rest of these kings of the northern kingdom of Israel and see how another promise of God started to come to pass for the nation – sadly their exile, per verse 29. We might begin by noting that starting with Zechariah’s short six-month reign, we come to a period marked by conspiracy, treason and civil war. As noted, this contrasts with the relative stability of Judah’s two kings here, especially King Azariah aka King Uzziah’s long reign. It also contrasts with the stability Israel enjoyed previously under Jehu’s dynasty.
It would be helpful to point out that if you take the timeframes of how long each of these Israelite kings reign in this chapter and add them up, the numbers don’t work from a chronologically linear perspective. What do I mean? I mean that if you were to assume that all these kings reigned one at a time, and only one at a time, the numbers don’t work with the date markers that we do know. For example, it’s generally held that King Uzziah ended his reign in 740 BC. Well, verse 27 says that King Pekah of Israel began to reign over Israel in Samaria and that he reigned twenty years. After that, we have Hoshea as the next king and we see later he reigned for nine years (17:1). That’s twenty-nine years between the two of them. But we know from various historical artifacts that it was 722 BC that Assyria completes the conquest of Israel – just 22 years from King Uzziah’s death. That is just one example here of several challenges when trying to work through and harmonize all the length of reigns and year markers given in this and the surrounding chapters.
Part of the solution in some of these dating challenges is when we recognize that there were apparently quite a lot of coregencies going on in both kingdoms of Israel and Judah. That’s when a father and son reign together as king for a time. In some cases, it appears the reported length of a king’s reign included the time of the coregency and sometimes not. For example, King Jeroboam’s reign appears to have started as a coregency with his father King Jehoash. Likewise, King Uzziah of Judah’s long fifty-two year reign likely includes coregency times with his father Amaziah, and then later again with his son Jotham. Verse 5 specifically tells us about this coregency with Jotham.
However, coregencies alone don’t seem to account for the timeline challenges in this chapter for the northern kingdom of Israel. If you do the math, the inevitable conclusion is that of these six Israelite kings there had to be some overlap of their reigns. When looking to harmonize the numbers, they strongly suggest that the timeframe for this chapter’s six kings covers just a little over 20 years of time. In other words, while six kings are mentioned here, a lot of this time involved rival kings vying for Israel at the same time. That some of Israel was controlled by one king while simultaneously other parts of Israel was controlled by another king. This matches up well with the various geographical notes in the text. For example, Menahem is described in verse 14 as beginning first as a power out of the old Israelite capital of Tirzah which eventually came to conquer Shallum who was reigning out of Samaria. Likewise, we see that King Menahem cruelly struck the town of Tiphsah who didn’t want to accept his reign. Similarly, we find in verse 25 that King Pekah had come forth with support from Gilead to take down Pekahiah who controlled Samaria. This all suggests that Israel at points had multiple rival kings who embroiled Israel in civil war.
This is especially sad if we note the growing international threat of Assyria. King Menahem has to levy a huge tax on the wealthy citizens under his control in order to appease Assyria so he can focus on securing his own reign over Israel. They later come back in verse 29 during the days of Pekah and have a mighty conquest of much of Israel, taking a large amount of Israelite territory – pretty much all of the northern and eastern sections. All of Gilead which was east of the Jordan was lost. So too all of Galilee, which was north of Samaria. The complete list is there in verse 29. So, Israel is fighting amongst themselves when they should have been united against their common enemy Assyria.
We should not be surprised by this. The Bible says that you reap what you sow. God had told the first Jeroboam son of Nebat that he could have established his dynasty forever, but because of the golden calves, God declared an end to his dynasty. And when Jehu’s dynasty didn’t solve this great sin problem either, we see that it remains as the plague upon Israel that ultimately becomes their undoing. While we read here in this chapter of one king after another in Israel, we see four times the common refrain that they each continued to “not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.” We are not surprised then that God allowed all this internal turmoil so that these final kings couldn’t establish their respective houses as a dynasty.
Furthermore, we are not surprised to see that God allowed the Assyrians to come and almost completely destroy them and exile many of them. Here we come to the eve of Israel’s final chapter. Hoshea is their final king. When we pick back up Israel’s story in chapter 17, we will read of their final downfall as the Assyrians conquer the capital of Samaria and complete their deportation of the Israelites off into exile. There we will read that God had warned Israel repeatedly this would happen if they didn’t turn from their sin, especially about this sin of the golden calves. Like we’ll read in 2 Kings 17:23, that the LORD exiled out of the land to Assyria “as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets.” True, we are not yet to chapter 17 to the final fall and exile of Israel. But if you are one of many Israelites referenced in today’s verse 29, that doesn’t much matter to you. To the many Israelites exiled to Assyria in today’s passage – for them the end had come. The threatened final judgment of exile from the Promised Land had fallen upon such. Just like God had repeatedly said would happen. So, it came to pass. So, it came to pass. God was true to his Word.
Let us now turn in our third point to consider these two kings of Judah. We’ll see how God was also true to his word with them as well. While we turn to consider Judah, this is the sort of other side of this chapter. While looking at Israel, we can then say, “meanwhile,” here is what is going on in Judah. In many ways, what a contrast. Think in terms of conspiracy and treason. Yes, Judah had in the previous generations experienced a little of that themselves. King Uzziah’s father Amaziah had been conspired against and assassinated, just as his father Joash had been. But even then, there was still a peaceful installation of the next Davidic king and the house of David’s kingdom continued. But even that is past history in our chapter, for under Uzziah and then Jotham there is no treason or conspiracy recorded. In general, it seems a time of general peace within the nation.
So then, for both King Uzziah and King Jotham they both are described as doing what was right in the eyes of the LORD according to all that their father had done. However, on the surface, that is a qualified statement. Remember how Uzziah’s father Amaziah had conducted himself. Amaziah had a godly beginning but an evil ending, just like his father Joash. So too with Uzziah, and again we find that the 2 Kings account only tells us about the resulting fruit of his sin – in this case the leprosy he was struck with, verse 5. But in 2 Chronicles we learn that his many early successes grew him in pride later in life and he foolishly tried to go into the temple and offer the incense before the LORD which was only the prerogative Aaronic priesthood. God struck him with leprosy in response.
Interestingly, while our text goes on to tell us that Jotham was also like his father, Uzziah, the 2 Chronicles again tells us more. It says that Jotham like his father, except, he did not enter the temple of the LORD (2 Chronicles 27:2). So, then, unlike Jotham’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, we don’t have an explicit record of some significant failing later in his life. To be sure, he may have had his later in life struggles, since it does say he was like his father; but the Bible doesn’t tell us of any such challenges. Hopefully he was a positive improvement from his fathers in that regard.
I would note however, that verse 37 does mention international troubles that Judah faced during his reign. They had troubles from Syria and Israel. We can see a similarity but a difference here with Israel. While Israel encountered major international trouble with the Assyrians, in comparison these troubles for Judah from Syria and Israel do not seem very significant. But we’ve seen in 2 Kings that such troubles are often reflective of some measure of God’s chastening upon his people. Since we don’t see any major late-in-life moral failing with Jotham like his fathers, we can’t point to that specifically. But we can point to a people and a nation that still had some corrupt practices in terms of worship and these international troubles might reflect some of God’s chastening because of that.
I have in mind here the twice repeated refrain that we find in verse 4 and 35. For both Uzziah and Jotham we are told that while they did what was right in God’s sight there was the issue about the high places. It says: “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.” In other words, they offered sacrifices to God on altars elsewhere than the temple at Jerusalem – but God had said they were to have a single central altar for their offerings and that place was Jerusalem. This repeated refrain for these two kings of Judah is the parallel to the four-time repeated refrain for the kings of Israel that they didn’t depart from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat. We should note that the both sins fall under the category of second commandment violations – in that they are perversions of the proper way God commanded the people to worship. Yet, we can recognize a difference in degree. The rank idolatry of the golden calves was a more heinous violation. However, it stands out how this refrain for the kings of Judah repeats too much like Israel’s refrain of sin. We shouldn’t be content with just being less sinful than others. It makes us wonder what failings would describe us today? What repeated refrain among the reformed church would get repeated with each passing generation? May the Lord give us eyes to see our own areas that need reformation!
Well, as we considered briefly the contrasting situation here with these two kings of Judah in comparison with the kings of Israel, I wanted to again make the point that we see here God keeping his word. What I especially have in mind is the leprosy that God put upon King Uzziah. We’ve talked about the promises of God, including even the threatening promises of God. While we talked about the promise that God kept to Jehu concerning his dynasty, we can remember the promise God made to David about his dynasty in 2 Samuel 7. When speaking about David’s dynasty, God promised this to David about his sons that would come from his line: 2 Sam. 7:14, I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men.” So then, God promised that his love for David would be shown to his descendants even in the form of fatherly chastisement. Well, here Uzziah, son of David, who otherwise seemed to have lived a pretty godly life, grew proud and broke the second commandment when he tried offer incense in the temple. So, God struck him with leprosy. In other words, God disciplined him, just as he had said he would. So, it came to pass. So, it came to pass. God’s promise even to David found a fulfillment here with Uzziah’s leprosy.
This then leads me to my concluding thought and encouragement. Today’s passage has reminded us of the sure promises of God and his faithfulness to keep his word. If he kept the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 to chasten his offspring, he would also keep his promise to raise up a king from his lineage of an everlasting king. So, it has come to pass, in Christ Jesus. Just as he promised a kingdom to Jehu unto the 4th generation, so he promised unto David a kingdom unto eternity. So, it has come to pass in Christ Jesus. Just as he promised trouble to those from who hardened themselves against God, the ones destroyed and deported here by Assyria, so he would go on to promise through the prophet Isaiah that he would take away their gloom and that those who have walked in darkness would see a great light (Is 9:1ff). Indeed, so too that has come to pass in Christ Jesus (Matt 4:15).
And so, I herald Christ Jesus again today and commend you to put your faith in him. We can trust our lives to King Jesus because our God who has promised to save us through him is faithful and true. May we, in turn, find encouragement today amidst life’s trials that God is still faithful and true. Some today might mock and say, where is the promise of his coming? But we know his patience is for the salvation of the elect. And so, we trust that he will indeed come again and bring us to glory.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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