CHAPTER 15 - JEHORAM AND AHAZIAH, (FIFTH AND SIXTH) KINGS OF JUDAH. JORAM, (TENTH) KING OF ISRAEL
Accession of Jehoram - Murder of the Royal Princes - Introduction of the service of Baal in Judah - Revolt of Edom - and of Libnah - The Writing from Elijah - Incursion of the Philistines and of Arab tribes - Sickness, Death, and Burial of Jehoram - State of public feeling.
(2 Kings 8:16-24; 2 Chronicles 21.)
THE tangled skein of Judaean and Israelitish history is now once more taken up.* It is a period of fast-hastening judgment, luridly lit up by the horrors attending Diehard's accession to the throne of Israel, though retarded in Judah by the mercy of God towards the house of David, and the temporary repentance and return to Jehovah in the land.
* On the somewhat complicated and difficult chronology of this period, comp. the Appendix at the end of this Volume.
The account in 2 Kings 8:16 introduces almost abruptly the accession of Jehoram to the throne of Judah, after the death of his father Jehoshaphat. It was probably for this reason, and because of the long gap between this and the previous historical notice about Judah (1 Kings 22:51), that the somewhat difficult explanatory clause (supposing it to be genuine) may have been inserted in 2 Kings 8:16: "And Jehoshaphat had been king of Judah."* In 2 Kings 8 (vers. 16-24) the history of Judah and of the reign of Jehoram is given only in briefest outline. For details we must, as in other cases, turn to the Book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 21.), whose narrative we now follow.
* Supposing this clause to be genuine, as to which we have doubts, it must be translated as in the text, and not as in the A.V. "Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah"; for which the original offers no warrant.
The historical notices with which the reign of Jehoram is introduced are almost identical in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Both state that Jehoram was thirty-two years old at his accession, and that his reign lasted eight years. The Book of Chronicles connects, as usually, this accession with the death and burial at Jerusalem of the former king, while the Book of Kings marks that Jehoram ascended the throne of Judah "in the fifth year of Joram, the son of Ahab, king of Israel." And since the reign of the latter extended over twelve years* (comp. 2 Kings 8:25), their rule must for seven years have been contemporaneous - that is, to within one year of the death of Joram of Israel.
* But in all these notices the well-known rule must always be kept in mind that as regards the reigns of kings the year was counted from the month Nisan to Nisan. Thus a reign of two years might really represent only one of fourteen months.
Even more important is the notice given in the same words in the two narratives - quite prominently in the Book of Kings - to the effect that Jehoram "walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab: for the daughter of Ahab [Athaliah] was his wife: and he did the evil in the sight of Jehovah" (comp. 2 Chronicles 21:6). That notice explains alike the history of the reign of Jehoram and the hastening ruin of Judah. Nor can it have been without evil influence even upon Joram and Israel.
The fatal combination of political devices with earnest religion, which constituted the weakness of Jehoshaphat's reign, and led to his alliance with the house of Ahab, appeared also in his disposition regarding his children. Besides Jehoram, who as the eldest succeeded to the throne, he had left six sons.*
* We must here call attention to the remarkable use of the term "Israel," not Judah, as applied to the southern kingdom, 2 Chronicles 21:2, and also ver. 4. The same expression occurs in 2 Chronicles 12:1, 6; again in 15:17, and in 28:19, 27. In all these passages the name seems used with some reference to the law of God - as that which gave to Israel its name, and made it the people of Israel. It is almost an anticipation of the New Testament use of that name.
For these he had - apparently during his lifetime - made not only ample provision in treasure, but assigned to them certain "fenced cities in Judah." This was to imitate the policy of Rehoboam (11:23), and, no doubt, with the same purpose of securing, in troublous times, the allegiance of the country districts and of their aristocracy, by assigning these "fenced cities" as residences to the royal princes. But in the present instance the device proved fatal to them. Jehoram had nothing to fear from his brother-in-law Joram - as Rehoboam had from Jeroboam.
But the semi-royal position of his brothers, supported - as it would almost seem - by intrigues of the chiefs of the local aristocracy, roused his fears. With the same unscrupulousness that characterized the house of Ahab and Jezebel, he rid himself of any possible rivals by the murder of all his brothers, and of their adherents among "the princes." And throughout, Diehard's reign was in accordance with its beginning. Following closely in the steps of the house of Ahab, he not only abolished all the pious ordinances and arrangements of his father, but actually rebuilt "the high places," which his grandfather Asa (17:3), and his father Jehoshaphat (17:6), had destroyed, and introduced the worship of Baal with all its abominations.
We cannot be mistaken in attributing a large share in these evil doings to Athaliah, although her name is not expressly mentioned. For, besides the repeated reference to the house of Ahab, we have the statement that his "brethren" of his "father's house were better" than Jehoram, which seems to imply that his special circumstances had made him different from the other members of Jehoshaphat's family, and also this - in our view, very significantly - that there came to him a writing from Elijah the prophet.
For, as there is not any other reference to Elijah throughout the Books of Chronicles, we infer that his activity had been confined to the northern kingdom, and that this solitary prophecy in regard to the kingdom of Judah must have been due to the connection of Jehoram with the house of Ahab, - or, to be more particular, to his marriage with Athaliah and her influence upon him. And we would date the composition of this "writing," or it may be its commission, shortly after that ill-fated union.*
* It is needless to discuss at length the various views propounded in regard to this writing from Elijah the prophet. There cannot be any reasonable doubt that Elijah the Tishbite is meant by that designation. Nor yet can we believe that his life extended beyond the marriage of Jehoram with Athaliah. The history as hitherto traced seems incompatible with any other view of the chronology. This idea that this letter came from heaven deserves as little serious consideration as the opposite notion of its spurious insertion from some other document by a later writer, who thought Elijah must also have been connected with the affairs of the southern kingdom of Judah. But in that case we would have expected more frequent and prominent introduction of Elijah, and the solitariness of the mention of his name is evidence of the genuineness of the notice.
For it seems of quite secondary importance whether Elijah himself wrote this letter, with direction to have it delivered at the proper time to the husband of Athaliah, or else commissioned one of his disciples to write it in his name, when the circumstances of the case indicated it. And as regards this latter view, we remember that the direction to Elijah to anoint Hazael king of Syria, was executed six or seven years after the death of Ahab, that to anoint Jehu fourteen years after Ahab: in both cases, therefore, many years after the commission had been given (1 Kings 19:15, 16); in both cases also, not by Elijah himself, nor yet with precisely literal fulfillment of the commission given.
The "writing from Elijah" announced, for the public and personal sins of Jehoram, public and personal judgments. But even before that warning came from the dead prophet, with all the solemnity of a message straight from heaven, the judgment upon Judah had begun. Indeed, as the sacred writer remarks,* it would have extended to the destruction of the whole family of Jehoram - and with it of the commonwealth of Israel -but for the gracious promise to David of the continuance of his house till his rule should merge in that of "David's greater Son"** (2 Samuel 7:12, 13; 1 Kings 11:36).
* This is the more noteworthy, and the more clearly points to the expected Messianic fulfillment of the promise, that at the time when the Book of Chronicles appeared no scion of the house of David occupied the throne, nor was there any human prospect of the restoration of that rule.
** The expression "to give a light" is sufficiently explained by the passages quoted. In 2 Kings 8:19 the words are: "as He [the LORD] promised him to give him [David] a light as regards his sons always [all the days]." In 2 Chronicles 21:7 the words, "and to his sons" must be paraphrased in the same sense, "and that to his sons."
Still most serious calamities befell the country, both in the east and in the west. In the south-east, Edom had for one hundred and fifty years been subject to Judah. It now rebelled. Josephus reports that the governor, whom Jehoshaphat had appointed, was murdered; while, from the prophecies of Joel (3:19), we infer that the rebellion was attended by a massacre of the Judaean settlers in Edom. From the account of the expedition against Edom - given with only slight variations in the Books of Kings and Chronicles - we learn that Jehoram started from Jerusalem with the host, and notably war-chariots;* that he was surrounded by the Edomites, but that he and the captains of his chariots - representing the standing army - fought their way through the Edomites, while the people - that is, the probably undisciplined multitude that had followed Jehoram, fled to their homes.
* In 2 Kings 8:21 we read that "Joram went over to Zair." This is probably a copyist's error for "Seir" ( hr;y[ix; for, hr;y[ic e ), and similarly the strange expression in that connection in 2 Chronicles 21:9: "with his princes" ( wyr;c; ), may originally depend on a similar misreading and an attempt at a gloss.
Thus ended the brief campaign, with the permanent loss of Edom, which, except temporarily and for a short period (comp. 2 Kings 14:7, 22), did not again become subject to Judaea, till its subdual under the Maccabean prince Hyrcan, about a century before Christ. It afterwards returned to Palestine the terrible gift of a Herod.
Nor was Edom the only loss which the southern kingdom sustained. In the west, not far from the borders of Philistia, Libnah,* the ancient Canaanitish royal, and afterwards a priest city, revolted (comp. Joshua 15:42; 12:15; 21:13).
* Comp. Robinson, Bible Researches, II., pp. 27-30.
Its site has not been localized with certainty, though it has, with some probability, been suggested that it is represented by the modern Tell-es- Safieh, somewhat to the south-east of Ascalon, and on the edge of the great Philistine plain. The hill on which the site stands was known in crusading times as "bright hill" (collis clarus), and the fort built upon it as "white garde" (Blanche Garde, alba specula or alba custodia). The name not only corresponds to the ancient Libnah, "whiteness," "sheen," but to the description of the place,* as in its white sheen visible in all directions. If Libnah was at the time inhabited by priests, it may have been that Diehard's apostasy from the faith led to its revolt from his rule. This may have been prompted by the success of the rising in Edom, and the movement itself have been encouraged by the Philistines.
* Comp. Robinson, Bible Researches, II., pp. 27-30.
This view is supported by the account in the Book of Chronicles, that the Philistines, aided by certain Arab tribes from the neighborhood of Ethiopia - probably hired for the purpose - made an incursion into Judaea, and literally "clave it." We know sufficient of the fierceness of these Arabs "by the side of the Cushites," when their spirit is roused, to understand that Judah, divided and enfeebled, and under the rule of a Jehoram, could not withstand their onset. The invading host seems to have taken, if not Jerusalem* itself, yet the place where the king and his household were; and they carried away with them what of the royal property they found, as well as the wives and sons of Jehoram, and indeed killed all the latter except the youngest, Jehoahaz, who, from some reason unknown, escaped death.
* It is generally supposed that Jerusalem was taken. But of this there is no mention in the text, and the non-mention of the plunder of the Temple as well as the reference to "the camp" in 2 Chronicles 22:1 seems inconsistent with it.
This was the beginning of that "great stroke" with which, as foretold in the writing from Elijah, Jehovah would smite Jehoram in his people, his children, his wives, and all his substance. For even this more public calamity had a personal character, since, as we read, "Jehovah stirred up against Jehoram the spirit" of these enemies; and very markedly their plunder was confined to the royal property. And when the second part of the threatened judgment befell the king, and that incurable internal disease* attacked him of which he ultimately died, it seems difficult to understand how those who witnessed all this, and still more, they who succeeded him, could have maintained the same attitude as he towards Jehovah.
* As regards the special disease of which Jehoram died, the curious reader may consult Trusen, Sitten, Gebr., u. Krankh. d. allen Hebr. pp. 212, 213, where the author notes a similar case in his experience from the indiscriminate use of a well-known English quack-medicine.
We can only account for it by the rooted belief that Jehovah was only a national deity, who was angry with those who forsook His service; but that the new deity, Baal, who had proved so mighty a god to the surrounding nations, would by and by take them under his protection. And as between the stern demands and the purity of the service of Jehovah, Who claimed of royalty absolute submission and simple stewardship and Who elevated all His people into a royal priesthood, and the voluptuous luxuriousness of the worship of Baal, who placed king and people in so very different a relationship to each other and to himself, rulers of the character of Jehoram or Ahaziah would not hesitate in their choice.*
* We mark, as significant synchronisms with the reign of Jehoram, the building of Carthage, and that the throne of Tyre was occupied by the brother of Dido, Pygmalion: scelere ante alios immanior omnes. What a conjunction in Tyre, Israel, and Judah; and what light it casts upon what some persons call the exclusiveness of the Old Testament ordinances!
We have evidence that the ungodly rule of Jehoram was not popular in Judah. "He departed without being desired" by his people, nor did they make any burning of precious spices at his funeral, such as was customary at the obsequies of kings (comp. 2 Chronicles 16:14; Jeremiah 34:5). And although "they buried him in the city of David," yet "not in the sepulchers of the kings."* If these notices seem to indicate a hostile popular feeling, the same inference comes to us from the unusual statement that "the inhabitants of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, his youngest son, king in his stead" (2 Chronicles 22:1).
* Only a hypercriticism can see any real difference between this statement and that in 2 Kings 8:24.
It would probably be too much to conclude that there was opposition to the accession of one who must have been known to be like-minded with his father on the part of the Levite and Priest party, although the revolt of the priest city Libnah and the later activity of the high priest Jehoiada and of the Levites on behalf of Joash (22:11; 23) seem to point in that direction. But we cannot be mistaken in concluding that Ahaziah was placed on the throne by a faction in Jerusalem favorable to the new order of things. And it needs no elaborate argument to convince us that, alike religiously and politically, a regime must have been profoundly unpopular which had reversed the whole former order of things, was associated with the permanent loss of Edom, the defection of so important a center as Libnab, and the victorious incursions of Philistines and Arab bands. To these outward calamities must be added the paramount sway of a woman, such as the daughter of Ahab, and the remodeling of Judah after the pattern of Israel, which even mere patriots must have felt to be a most humiliating abdication of supremacy in favor of the northern kingdom. And in the history of the brief reign of Ahaziah, as well as in the later rising which resulted in the death of Athaliah, the existence of two parties in Judah must be kept in view; the one representing the corrupt court faction, the other the growing popular feeling in favor of return to the old order of things.