Saturday, March 28, 2015

II Chronicles 26

II Chronicles 26 is about King Uzziah of Judah.  He was righteous, but God punished him with leprosy because he went into the Temple to offer incense, which only the Aaronide priests were allowed to do.

Here are some thoughts:

1.  II Chronicles 26:2 states: “He built Eloth, and restored it to Judah, after that the king slept with his fathers” (KJV).

Other translations say that the king rebuilt Eloth, and I was confused.  He rebuilt Eloth and restored it to Judah?  Wouldn’t it be more logical for the king to restore Eloth to Judah first, and then to rebuild it, since it is only after Judah possesses Eloth that the King of Judah can have the authority over Eloth to rebuild it?  Can a king of Judah rebuild Eloth in a time when Eloth does not even belong to Judah?

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, drawing from Radak and Metzudos, says that Eloth could only be fully restored to Judah after it had been rebuilt.  Judah could have taken Eloth, but, if it was in ruins, it was not fully restored to Judah.  Only once it was rebuilt could it be said to be restored to Judah, as a functioning city.  It was captured, rebuilt, and then restored to Judah.

2.  II Chronicles 26:21 states: “And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD: and Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land” (KJV).

The KJV says that Uzziah after getting leprosy dwelt in a “several” house.  Other translations say that he lived in a separate house.  The Hebrew word relates to freedom, so the idea may be that Uzziah dwelt in a house that was free, or separate from, others.

What is interesting is that the text says that he was separate because he was cut off from the house of the LORD.  How would being cut off from the house of the LORD cause Uzziah to live in a separate house?

The idea could be that, because Uzziah was a leper, he could not defile the Temple by being close to it.  Thus, Uzziah had to live far away from it.  And Uzziah not being near the Temple could have led him to retire from being king and thus to separate himself from others (Artscroll), since he arguably could not be king without having access to the Temple.  Could a king who is cut off from the Temple seek strength and guidance from God to rule, or represent the people of Israel in festivals and at sacrifices, which took place at the Temple?  Not really, I would say.

Maybe one could have had a relationship with God apart from the Temple in Hebrew Bible times, for David, when he was away from the Tabernacle, still found strength in the LORD (I Samuel 30:6).  Yet, David had a priestly ephod, so he was not entirely cut off from ritual access to God in his time of exile (I Samuel 23, 30).  Moreover, when David was driven out of Israel, God’s inheritance, he felt like he was being pressured to worship other gods (I Samuel 26:19).  Perhaps David could honor God anywhere, but there was something special about being in God’s presence in Israel and the Temple, something that one did not obtain outside of them.  Maybe Uzziah, years later, could not have a full relationship that a king needed with God apart from the Temple, so he retired from being king to a place of separation.  He had sought access to the Temple that was not permitted to him and was stricken with leprosy; now, as a leper, he had no access to the Temple, and that contributed to his further isolation.  He could not fulfill his role—-as the city of Eloth did not fulfill its role as a city, and thus was not restored, until it was rebuilt.  Depressing!

Rashi understands the verse differently in his attempt to account for the causal relationship.  According to Rashi, the verse means that it was decreed from the house of the LORD that Uzziah had to be separate from people.  The word that the KJV and other versions translate as “cut off” in “cut off from the house of the LORD,” “nigzar,” means “decreed” in Esther 2:6.

3.  II Chronicles 26:23 states: “So Uzziah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the field of the burial which belonged to the kings; for they said, He is a leper: and Jotham his son reigned in his stead.”

II Kings 15:7 says that Uzziah was buried with his fathers in the city of David.  Was he buried with the other kings, or not?  Somehow, his leprosy had something to do with where he was buried, for II Chronicles 26:23 says, “for they said, He is a leper…”  The usual explanation is that Uzziah was buried near his fathers, but not directly with them, on account of his leprosy.  There was a Hasmonean ossuary said to contains the bones of Uzziah, and some (the scholars who write about Chronicles in the HarperCollins Study Bible and the Jewish Study Bible) appear to see that as evidence that perhaps there is some historical authenticity to the story in Chronicles about Uzziah’s burial (or such is my impression).

4.  In studying this chapter, I was thinking about Mishnah Kelim 1.6-9, which talks about gradations of holiness: the cities of Israel are holier than other cities, which means that the Israelite cities must expel lepers; Jerusalem is even holier; and the Temple is holier still.  Of course, the Mishnah was much later than I-II Chronicles, but could Kelim 1.6-9 be relevant somehow to what is in II Chronicles 26?  Leviticus 13:46, which probably existed prior to I-II Chronicles, says that lepers must dwell alone and outside of the camp.  Obviously, Uzziah in II Chronicles 26 had to be separate from the Temple because he was a leper.  Yet, in some way, Uzziah the leper was still buried in the holy city of Jerusalem, the city of David.  Go figure!

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