Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 9:10-17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; Psalm 142; 2 Chronicles 26-28
King Uzziah’s reign goes from good to bad, determined by the king’s walk with the Lord. He begins well, seeking the Lord and doing right in his eyes. Success brings power, and, as can be the case, power corrupts. He associates his success with his abilities, and his pride grows (2 Chronicles 26:16). We can imagine his days becoming busier, trying to balance all his activities. What got lost was his faithfulness to the Lord. He decides to burn incense on the altar, showing that he was taking control of how God would be worshipped. God punishes Uzziah with leprosy, a reminder of how little control he actually had.
Although his son Jotham does well, the people continue in the ways of Uzziah. Then comes Ahaz, whose reign is completely negative. From the beginning he did not do right. The king of Judah acts like the kings of Israel, a terrible indictment. He not only corrupted true worship but built idols to promote Baal worship. He even sacrificed his children (2 Chronicles 28:3), an abomination practiced only by only one other Jewish king, Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:6). It was carried out in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, whose name in Hebrew is Gehenna, another word for hell (Matthew 5:22). The diabolic nature of killing infants in the hope that this will bring about some good is reflected in it being the final straw in the detestable ways of the other nations.
The sins of Ahaz and the people inevitably lead to their deliverance into the hands of the army of Israel. Yet God becomes disturbed at the ensuing slaughter and humiliation. The horror reaches heaven and touches God’s heart. Just as his mercy intervened to restrain the angel of death over Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 21), he sends the prophet Oded to restrain the Israelites. Though Judah had sinned terribly, the Israelites should still treat them with respect. They should not gloat in arrogant self-righteousness, but remember that they too have sinned. As we look with horror upon the unethical actions of others, even killing babies through abortion, infanticide or neglect, we should remember that we too have sinned and are dependent on God’s mercy and forgiveness. Those who do wrong should be punished, but still treated with respect. The Israelites did this by providing clothes, food and medicine for their prisoners and allowing them to return home. These men from Samaria (v. 15) act with compassion towards the Judeans who had failed in their faithfulness, and may have inspired Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Those we least expect to act ethically may end up shaming those who consider themselves too good to help.
Yet in spite of humiliating defeat and merciful compassion, Ahaz remains unrepentant. Rather than turn to the Lord for help, he pillages the temple to pay off the king of Assyria (v. 21). Rather than seeing the hand of God empowering his enemies, he puts his faith in their gods. Rather than open his heart to the Lord, he shuts the doors of the temple. In futility, he erects altars at every street corner, rather than turn to the one God who can help him. The extent to which some people will go to avoid God may marvel us, yet it should not lead to self-righteousness. Each of us in our own way keeps God out of that part of our lives that remains to be transformed. Though we may love others, we can always learn to love more and better (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Ahaz exemplifies how far some people will stubbornly persist in evil. Thankfully, we have other examples of those who follow God, including Hezekiah whom we will meet tomorrow.