Nobodies of the Bible: Jotham--good king, negligent father
The Bible describes the kings of Judah as either good or bad kings. We don't give most of them much thought nowadays, but among 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, and some of the prophets, we can read a lot about most of them. Each of them has something to teach us about holy living.
Even the good kings eventually gave in to pride, fear, ingratitude, or some other failing that marred the end of their reigns. The Bible often gives us more detail about their failings than their strengths.
Then there's Jotham. Not only is he one of the good kings, but his reign did not end with a failure. 2 Kings devotes all of seven verses to him (15:32-38), and 2 Chronicles not much more (27:1-9). He was king at the time Isaiah started his ministry, but Isaiah and his contemporaries barely mention him. He was merely the son of Uzziah and father of Ahaz.
Speaking of Ahaz, Jotham might have died without falling into any sin worth dwelling on, but Ahaz was the greatest disaster ever to sit on David's throne. What happened? And what can we learn from it?
The kings of Judah, an overview
Solomon himself had erected temples to the worst of Canaanite gods to placate all of those wives. The common people also began to worship them, and pagan shrines popped up on high places all over the kingdom. No subsequent king even attempted to remove them until it was too late.
Generations before Jotham, Jehoshaphat reigned in righteousness. The Bible makes no overt criticism of him, either, but one of his policies backfired badly. From the time the kingdom of David and Solomon was divided into Israel and Judah, the kings of Judah fought with Israel, attempting to reunite the kingdom.
Jehoshaphat had a different idea. He thought he could bring Israel back under Jerusalem's control with diplomacy. So he made an alliance with Ahab, the most ungodly king in the entire history of Israel. He arranged to have his son Jehoram marry Ahab's daughter Athalia.
It could have worked if Jehoram had followed in his father's footsteps and been a godly king. Instead, as soon as he became king, he murdered all of his brothers and followed the ways of Ahab. He was the first king of Judah to turn away from God completely.
He reigned only eight years. His son Ahaziah followed in his footsteps, but only briefly. God appointed Jehu to destroy the house of Ahab and become king of Israel in his place. Ahaziah perished in battle after only one year on the throne. Athaliah hated the house of David and the God of David so much that she murdered all of her own grandchildren and ruled Judah herself.
Or rather, she tried to kill them all. God had decreed that David's house would have no end until Jesus inherited his throne. When the slaughter of Ahaziah's sons began, the daughter of the chief priest Jehoiada ran out of the room with the baby Joash and secretly raised him in the temple.
Joash was a wonderful king until Jehoiada died. Some of his officials, who apparently remembered Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah favorably, began to worship idols again with the king's consent. When Jehoada's son protested, Joash completely forgot the kindness the old priest had showered on him and had his son murdered.
His son Amaziah started off as a good king, but served God only half-heartedly. After his missteps broke the alliance with Israel and made the northern kingdom once again Judah's enemy, he turned away from God and began to worship idols himself.
Uzziah, the next king, never turned away from God. He became the most powerful and successful king since the division of the kingdom and won all of his wars against Israel and its allies.
Then his success went to his head. He decided that his royal power was not enough. He wanted the power and reputation of the priesthood as well. He decided to burn incense to God in the holy place of the temple, which the law forbade him to enter. The priests tried to stop him, but he responded to them with rage.
Since he refused to listen to what God told him through the priests, God punished him by making him a leper. He could not even return to his palace. He had to live the rest of his life in a separate house. He was still nominally king, but Jotham became the real ruler of Judah.
Jotham broke the three-generation pattern of starting well and ending badly. He inherited a powerful kingdom and continued the unbroken string of victories against Israel and its allies. He passed a powerful kingdom on to Ahaz.
But Ahaz broke the four-generation succession of godly kings. He turned to idols from the start. And the continuing threat from Israel? He didn't even attempt to fight with his own army. Instead, he asked Assyria, the neighborhood bully, to fight for him. And with that, he surrendered Judah's independence.
From then on, Judah was Assyria's or Babylon's vassal. Subsequent kings resisted their overlords only at their peril. More often than not, they worshiped Assyrian or Babylonian gods instead of the God of David--until Babylon carried the whole nation into exile.
How many of these rulers did you already know about?
Jotham's one mistake
No one, not even the best of us, is immune to sin. 1 Chronicles 27:2 notes that Jotham "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. The people, however, continued their corrupt practices."
It was a good thing that Jotham did not repeat his father's rebellious pride, but what if not entering the temple was not just a sign of humility?
I wish I could show an old Norman Rockwell cover here, but they're all still under copyright. The one I have in mind shows a mother and her children in their Sunday best, headed for church. The father sits in his underwear, unshaven, reading the paper. LIke Jotham, perhaps?
Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Training is not a matter of words or even modeling good living. It requires instilling disciplined action. That's hard to accomplish for parent who are not practicing the same disciplines.
Even the secular media has noticed the decline of fatherhood and the male identity crisis in America today.
- On average, 30% of American children are born into single-family homes. Among black children, the rate is more than double.
- Fewer than half of all divorced fathers see their children more than a few times a year. 20% don't see them even once a year.
- More than half of children living with a single mother live in poverty, as compared to a sixth of children living with both parents.
- Living with two parents is a greater indicator of success in school than family income. Poor children from two-parent families outperform more affluent children from one-parent families.
- Vast majorities of youth suicides, teen murderers and rapists, other teen violent crimes, poor academic performance, high school dropouts, childhood behavioral disorders, runaways, child homelessness, teen pregnancies, and other social ills come from fatherless families.
- Most violent crimes against women by intimates are committed either by boyfriends or ex-husbands, and less than 10% by husbands.
- Girls living with their mothers' boyfriends suffer a higher rate of sexual abuse than girls living with birth fathers.
In earlier generations, fathers lived in the home, but didn't necessarily take an active role in child rearing. Nowadays, fathers change diapers and do a much larger share of household chores. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they fulfill all the duties of fatherhood.
Secular media, of course, do not discuss the effects of nominally Christian fathers who don't regularly attend church or take an active role in their children's spiritual development.
We often encounter the statement that the moral behavior of church people is not measurably different from society as a whole. But when studies disregard the nominal Christians who show up in church once in a while and take no active part, the story changes. Active church members who see to their own spiritual growth live much more godly lives than society as a whole. And it shows in their parenting.
The books of Joshua and Judges show a depressing pattern of a relatively godly generation followed by a generation that drifts away from the Lord. The next godly generation never quite attains the level from which the previous one fell. Eli, Samuel, David, and Solomon were all negligent fathers, with disastrous consequences.
And that brings us back to Jotham. Surely as king, his presence at the temple was regularly required for ceremonial purposes. Otherwise, did he go at all? Maybe. Did he model a life of worship for Ahaz? Did he actively instill godly values in Ahaz? Obviously not. And his fatherly negligence was the most disastrous of any recorded in Scripture.