It is a true tragedy when a great life is marred by a glaring failure, when accomplishments are marked by an *asterisk, when every great memory is followed by the ominous “Nevertheless.” Lives that begin well but end poorly are much harder to comprehend than those that are wicked from front to back.
Such were the lives of some of the kings of Judah. Between the thoroughly wicked reigns of Ahaziah and Ahaz we find four of these tragedies.
The boy-king Joash “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chr. 24:2). After being rescued from his grandmother’s homicidal wrath and protected by the priest Jehoiada for six years, he was made king at age seven. Under the wise guidance of Jehoiada, Joash brought great reform to Judah. But as soon as Jehoiada died, Joash began to listen to the “princes of Judah” (24:17) while ignoring the prophets sent by god to warn him. Finally, God sent this message through Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah: “Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.” (24:20)
Amaziah came next, reigning a healthy 29 years with this summary, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.” (25:2) After bringing righteous judgment against his father’s assassins, he assembled an army, showing great faith by obediently sending the Israelite army back home at the counsel of a prophet. But after his great victories, Amaziah “brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them” (25:14), resulting in a defeat by the same Israelite army he previously sent away. His lack of wholehearted devotion to God eventually ruined his reign.
Amaziah’s son Uzziah continues the pattern: reigning a whopping 52 years as king, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (26:4). But like his grandfather, Uzziah’s godly leadership seemed to last only as long as the priest Zechariah was alive. (26:5) After great military victories, Uzziah “grew proud, to his destruction” (26:16) and acted on that pride by going into the temple to burn incense, a job given only to the priests. In grace, God sent the opposition of righteous priests and also a bout of leprosy to warn Uzziah. Though allowed to live, he lived the rest of his life in isolation, continually reminded of his tragic descent from godliness.
The final member of this tetralogy was Jotham, who began as governor while his father suffered leprosy in private. His work is summarized in similar words: “…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (27:2) The story even notes that from watching Uzziah he learned to know his place and stay out of the temple. But immediately we read, “But the people still followed corrupt practices.” In other words, Jotham was a personally righteous and successful man, “because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (27:6), but also a king who failed to bring any spiritual reformation to a wicked people.
Patterns like this are one of Scripture’s ways of flashing a neon sign to get our attention. What should we take from this pattern?
First, a warning: it is more than possible to serve the Lord well early in life only to fall away from usefulness, wisdom or godliness later in life. Too many Christians have the same story: a great passion for God and holiness during high school or college, only to gradually but surely slip into worldliness by middle age. If we fail to fight the good fight, this will be our story.
Second, a reality check: even the best kings (or governors or presidents) have blind spots at the least and often great weaknesses and failures. While we pray for our civil leaders and ought to hold them to high standards, we shouldn’t be surprised when they fall short. The story of power corrupting decent leaders is as old as the world.
Third, a call: by disabusing our faith in ourselves and our faith in our leaders, this pattern calls us to the only one to thoroughly break it: Jesus. Only Jesus was faithful from the very beginning of his earthly life to the very end. Only Jesus was never corrupted by power. He is the only King to both show and give holiness and righteousness to his people. Let’s be thankful today for our ever-living King about whom no “nevertheless” needs to be written.