Thursday, February 13, 2014

Jotham’s Failure

This morning I was meditating on 2 Chronicles 27. Jotham was king of Judah during the time of the divided kingdom. Judah’s brother nation and enemy (2 Kings 15:37), Israel, was in its death throes as a nation. Jotham became king at the age of 25. He was already married and had a son, Ahaz, who would succeed him (2 Chron 28:1). Jotham’s father Uzziah (a.k.a. Ahaziah) had been a good king but had let his success go to his head and entered the temple to offer incense as if he were a priest as well as a king, for which he had been struck with leprosy (2 Chron 26). (Interestingly his body was buried ‘near’ his ancestors, rather than ‘with’ them, which suggests that the Israelites considered him polluting even after death.)

The story as it is given to us in 2 Chronicles 27 focuses on Jotham’s personal piety and achievements: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the Lord” (v. 2). “Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God” (v. 6). Apart from his successful war against the Ammonites (v. 5) we are not told anymore about his life and reign. He died at the disappointing age of 41, however, having reigned for only 16 years. On the face of it, Jotham seems to have lived an exemplary life but not been rewarded with longevity for it, as it would seem he should have been (cf. e.g., Deut 17:20; 30:18).

But there is more to Jotham’s life than his personal godliness. Jotham was also anointed king over the Lord’s people. He had a responsibility to lead his people to obey God’s law. At the time of the Judges the big problem was that, as “Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). But here Israel has a king, and still they do as they see fit, “continuing their corrupt practices” (2 Chron 27:2b; 2 Ki 15:35; cf. Deut 12). Jotham’s failure was not one of personal piety but of leadership. He failed to act when he should have acted. And his failure to build on his personal piety cost him his life.

We often hear people say things like “God wants us, not our actions” or “God wants us to be not to do; he is more interested in our character than our work”. The Bible does not drive such a wedge between our lives and our actions. Part of being is doing. “By their fruit you will know them,” said our Lord (Matt 7:20). We know God by his actions, in creation and providence, and supremely in his mighty acts of salvation. I think it was A. W. Tozer, who said “We have a tendency to think and not to act.” Jotham may have thought much about his people’s corrupt practices and regretted it deeply. But that was not enough. He was called upon to exercise leadership in this situation but he didn’t act. And the Lord removed him. 

Jotham’s reign was short lived. That of his grandson, Hezekiah, was not (2 Chron 31:1; 2 Ki 18:4). Whatever responsibility the Lord has given us may we not shrink back like Jotham but step out in faith and act.