Parents have a lot of influence on who we become, but not more than God. Whatever kind of parents you had — godly or ungodly, wise or unwise, kind or unkind — you can overcome your past.
The kings during Isaiah’s ministry are a Khan Academy course in broken families: Uzziah, his son Jotham, his son Ahaz, and his son Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). Four very different rulers, but each a father, and each a son — and each a sinner in his own way. What intrigued me while reading through 2 Chronicles recently was the relationships between them. How did a father impact his son? And how did the sons respond to successes and failures in their fathers’ reigns?
The transitions highlight one theme that holds just as true today: We may be biologically or socially predisposed to fall into similar patterns of sin as our parents, but we are not destined to repeat their failures — or their faithfulness.
One Father’s Moral Failure
Uzziah became king when he was sixteen, the same age we let children drive today. Two whole years before he would have been trusted to vote for an American president, the people entrusted him to govern an entire nation of God’s people. Despite rising to power faster than teenage pop stars today, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4).
His father, however, hadn’t always done what was right with the right heart (2 Chronicles 25:2). In fact, Amaziah brought foreign gods into Judah and worshiped them (2 Chronicles 25:14). And because he did, God gave them over in battle to the northern kingdom of Israel, who captured the king and tore down the wall of Jerusalem (25:21–23).
When Uzziah’s father chose what was wrong in the eyes of God, the people conspired against him, so he fled in fear (25:27). But his own people hunted him down and executed him. He died in shame, as a traitor and adulteress against God himself. Excommunication by death penalty was Uzziah’s inherited legacy.
Imitating Flawed Parents
The people killed their own king, making his 16-year-old their sovereign. How Uzziah lives and serves in the wake of his father’s outrageous sins has everything to do with how we live and serve in light of our parents’ failures. Again, Scripture says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Uzziah didn’t throw out everything his dad had done just because he had fallen in the end. No, Uzziah imitated what was right in God’s eyes in his father’s example, and he abandoned what was wrong in God’s eyes.
Uzziah reigned for 52 years. “He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5). With God’s help, he conquered the Philistines and the Arabians (2 Chronicles 26:7), built strong towers in Jerusalem (26:9), and raised up an impressive well-prepared army (26:11–15).
Not only did he seek the true God, as his father has once done but failed to do later in life, but he immediately set himself to repairing what was wrong or lost during his father’s reign. He took it upon himself, with God’s help, to recover the land lost in battle, to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, and to reestablish God’s people against her enemies — not as reparations for his father’s sins, but as a renewal in the wake of sin. He took the ashes of his father’s failures, and asked God to breathe new life into them.
The author of 2 Chronicles says, “His fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15).
Another Father Falls
Next verse: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16). The sterling young king finally caves to temptation as an old man. Like his father before him, he followed God for years, but then fell into terrible moral failure.
Eighty priests confronted Uzziah over his sin. “Then Uzziah was angry” (2 Chronicles 26:19). He doubled the offense by rejecting wise, godly counsel, adding unrighteous anger to his stubborn pride. And God struck him with leprosy. He lived and ruled alone, because of his leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:21).
He rejected his father’s failures, refusing to entertain or worship foreign gods, but he carved out failures of his own. Uzziah proves at the same time that we are not destined to repeat our parents’ sins, and that every son and daughter is still vulnerable to the sin inside each of us.
Another Son Emerges
How did Jotham think about his father’s leprosy — separated from everyone because he spit in God’s face — or his grandfather’s execution, killed for trading away the Maker of mankind for silly, man-made figurines? Did he wear their shame everywhere went? Did he blame his weaknesses and sins on their bad examples?
Jotham became king at 25, and 2 Chronicles says simply, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 27:1–2). Unlike his father, he humbled himself before God and his temple. Like his father, he followed his father’s example in godliness, while refusing to repeat many of his father’s failures. He fortified Jerusalem with walls, gates, forts, and towers (2 Chronicles 27:3–4). “Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6).
Imperfect Sons of Fallen Fathers
Now Jotham wrestled with sin of his own, as we all do. We know from elsewhere that he failed to tear down the high places where men and women worshiped foreign gods (2 Kings 15:35), a sin his father had also committed (2 Kings 15:4), meaning Jotham was not immune to his father’s bad influence. We are all more tempted to fall where our fathers and mothers fell. But Jotham proves we are not destined to fall. He embraced and imitated his father’s faithfulness, and rejected many of his father’s failures, though imperfectly.
His story is the shortest chapter in 2 Chronicles (only nine verses), but leaves perhaps the greatest example — overcoming the devastating weaknesses and failures in his family to lead with imperfect, but steadfast faithfulness. He chose what was right in the eyes of the Lord, even after he watched his father and grandfather choose what was wrong.
To Sons and Daughters of Failure
If you are a son or daughter of failure, take heart. Like Uzziah, we can walk away from the gods of our fathers. And like Jotham, we can reject the pet sins our parents kept in the home. We may be more likely than others to repeat our parents’ unique failures because we learned so much from them, but God’s word and his Spirit can always rescue us from what is wrong in his eyes, however ingrained the wickedness might be in our history and experience.
And we need to be reminded not to throw out evidences of grace and models of faithfulness because our father or mother failed in some major way. To the degree that they “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” hold onto the rightness and imitate them in your life, your marriage, and your parenting. And in the ways that they “did what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord,” grieve over their sin and the pain it caused you and others, and then choose to repent and turn from sin yourself.
You cannot undo their sins, or pay for them. But you can kill the same sins before they undo you. In the wake of their iniquity, treasure the grace that can keep you from making the same mistakes and falling into the same failures.