CHAPTER 4 - AMAZIAH, (NINTH) KING OF JUDAH. JEHOASH, (THIRTEENTH) KING OF ISRAEL
Accession of Amaziah - Character of his Reign - Military Preparations - The Hiring of Israelitish Mercenaries, Warning of the Prophet, and Dismissal of the Auxiliaries - "The Valley of Salt" - Defeat of the Edomites - March upon Petra - Description of Petra - Slaughter of the Captives - Introduction of Edomite Idolatry - The Challenge of Amaziah to Jehoash, and his Reply - Defeat of Judah - Capture and Plunder of Jerusalem - Conspiracy against Amaziah - Flight to Lachish - Murder of the King.
(2 KINGS 14:1-20; 2 CHRONICLES 25.)
IT has been well remarked that Jehoahaz of Israel had on his death left to his son and successor Jehoash, amidst the sore troubles of his country, this priceless inheritance the promised answer to his prayer. How largely his promise had already been fulfilled appears from a comparison of the condition to which Hazael had reduced the army of Israel in the time of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7), with the three brilliant victories which Jehoash gained over Ben-hadad III. Nor were the military successes of Israel confined to foreign enemies. Jehoash proved as victorious against Judah as against Syria.
In the second year of the reign of Jehoash over Israel, Joash, king of Judah, was succeeded by his son Amaziah. The reign of that monarch, who ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, extended over twenty-nine years. Its beginning was marked by a continuance of what on the whole might, as in the case of his father Joash, be characterized as doing that which was "right in the sight of Jehovah:"* To this the Book of Kings adds, however, the qualification, "Yet not as David his father," which the Book of Chronicles explains by the expression, "not with a perfect heart."
* We mark, as regards this and other Judaean monarchs of this period, that their mothers were "of Jerusalem."
In truth his religious bearing during that period was (as both the historical records note) like that of his father Joash, and included the toleration of worship and services in "the high places." But even this qualified adherence to the religion of his fathers did not continue during the latter part of his reign.
Ascending the throne after a palace-revolution to which his father had fallen victim (2 Kings 12:20, 21), it must have been some time before "the kingship [royal rule] was confirmed in his hand."*
* This explanation is both natural and sufficient. There is not any reason for thinking of a "confirmation" of his accession by the king of Assyria, or that Judah was at that time "a fief" of that empire.
So soon as this first necessity was secured, he punished the authors of the late revolt by executing the murderers of his father. The sacred text especially notes that in so doing he spared their children, in conformity with the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 24:16), which in this, as in so many other respects, differed from the common practice of ancient times.*
* See for ex. Herodotus iii. 119. Curtius (vi. II) speaks of it as a legal provision that the relatives of regicides were executed along with the actual criminals; comp. Cicero ad. Brut. 15. In the same heathen spirit had Jehu acted (2 Chronicles 22:8).
But the promise of this good beginning failed only too soon. As one has aptly remarked, "with a perfect heart" Amaziah was only a soldier, and even this rather in the sense of a cruel and boastful Eastern monarch than of a wise or brave general. It seems not improbable that the successes of the king of Israel against Syria had awakened in Amaziah lust for military glory. For the attainment of this object he made preparations of the most extensive character. His first aim was again to reduce Edom to the vassalage which it had cast off during the reign of Jehoram (2 Kings 8:20-22).*
* Comp. Vol. 6. of this History.
In prospect of this expedition, he reorganized the forces of Judah, that had been shattered by the Syrians in the time of his father Joash (2 Chronicles 24:23, 24). From the account in 2 Chronicles 25:5, 6, he seems to have made a levy en masse, calling to arms the whole population capable of military service.*
* "From 20 years old and above."
The national character of this measure appears even from the circumstance that the officers of the new army were first appointed according to the old arrangement of tribe, clans, and families (2 Chronicles 25:5), and that these chiefs then conducted the levy of the people. The grand total so called to arms appears large; but it is considerably smaller than that in the time of Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:3), in that of Asa (2 Chronicles 14:8), or in that of Jehoshaphat* (2 Chronicles 17:14-8).
* But see on those numbers the remarks in Vol. 5. of this History.
Besides raising a native Judaean army, Amaziah had recourse to the novel device of hiring 100,000 Israelitish mercenaries, at the enormous cost of 100 talents - presumably silver talents,* amounting to about. 37,500 pounds of our money.
* Gold talents would have been so designated, and they would have amounted to the incredible figure of about 675,000 pounds.
Such aid could only lead to defeat, since Jehovah was not with Israel. Of this even their hiring themselves out for a foreign warfare in which they were not in any wise concerned affords fresh evidence. Had Amaziah possessed spiritual insight, he would not have sought such help. As it was, "a prophet" was commissioned to warn him that if he went to battle relying on such aid he should surely succumb.* God would show that He had power not only to help, but also to cast down. The answer of the king was characteristic. It indicated that while he rightly appraised the character of these mercenaries,** he was chiefly concerned about the money which had been spent upon them.
* The very difficult verse, 2 Chronicles 25:8, is generally explained by supposing that al "not," or alw has dropped out from the second clause, and that the verse should read, "But rather go thou, do - that the LORD may not make thee fall - " This, however, seems an arbitrary solution, and we would propose to render the verse as it stands, translating sa yk by "or else" (see Ewald, Lehrb. d. hebr. Spr. p. 861, first line): "Or else (viz. if thou wilt persist), go thou, do, be strong," etc.
** He styles them (ver. 9) "the band of Israel," the same expression as in 2 Chronicles 22:1; 2 Kings 13:20; and often in the same sense.
The dignified reply of the man of God, pointing him upwards to Him who could give far more than this, at least silenced the king, and he dismissed his auxiliaries. But the matter ended not there. Disappointed, no doubt, of their hope of plunder and ravage, the Ephraimires returned to their homes "in burning anger" (2 Chronicles 25:10). Josephus, although telling the story with his usual embellishments, adds what seems a historical notice to the effect that these Israelites laid waste the land as far as Beth-horon, taking much cattle, and slaying 3,000 men (Ant. ix. 9, I). If this account be trustworthy, we can scarcely be mistaken in tracing to this the later war between Judah and Israel, with its disastrous consequences to Amaziah. If Amaziah had hitherto proved himself anything but what his name implied, "the strong one of Jehovah" [or perhaps, "Jehovah strengthens"], his true character was soon to appear, alike in his success and in his defeat. The dismissal of the Israelitish auxiliaries did not delay the preparations for the war. The south-eastern limit of "the land" may be roughly marked by the lower end of the Dead Sea., Here, east of the mountain of rock-salt (the Khashm Usdum), stretches southward that continuation of the Jordan-gorge (the Ghor) known as "the Valley of Salt" (the Sabkah). The valley, which extends about eight miles (about three hours), trends southwards to the white chalk cliffs,* which rise 50 to 150 feet. They are formed from the debris washed down from the higher soil of the Arabah - here especially that part of "the plain" which stretches from Jericho downwards on both sides of the Jordan as far as the Elanitic Gulf of the Red Sea.**
* It is at least doubtful whether these cliffs are identical with the Akrabbim, or "scorpion-stairs," of Numbers 34:4; Joshua 15:3; Judges 1:36.
** At present the part south of the bounding ridge of chalk-hills bears specially the name, Arabah. Our description of the country is based chiefly on Robinson's Bibl. Res. ii:pp. 121-173; Badeker-Socin's Pal., p. 181, etc., notices in other works (so far as accessible) being also taken into consideration, Riehm's Hand-Worterb. gives, as generally, a very good, albeit brief, summary of information.
The "salt valley" itself formed the southern boundary of Judaea towards Edom. In its western and central parts it is wholly desolate, the clay soil being often flooded by the Dead Sea, and even the watercourses which traverse it being impregnated with the salt which encrusts the district. It is otherwise as regards the southern part of the valley, and especially the eastern, which is covered with vegetation, and where we still trace the sites of ancient towns.* Here indeed we have an oasis that formed the ancient boundary between Edom and Moab.
* Comp. here also Tristram, Land of Moab, chapters iii. and iv. passim.
In this "salt valley" had Joab, or rather Abishai, his brother, defeated Edom in the time of David (2 Samuel 8:13; 1 Chronicles 18:12, etc.), and here again did the Edomite army encounter the host of Amaziah. Although we know not the precise spot where the battle was fought, we may well suppose that it was in the southern part of the valley. The Edomites were within their own territory; their retreat would not be difficult, and, owing to the surrounding heights, comparatively safe. On the other hand, if the Judaean army had been beaten, it is not easy to imagine how any considerable remnant could have escaped, either by crossing the treacherous "valley," or by skirting it. Nevertheless the Edomite army was defeated, with a slaughter of 10,000 men, and the capture of other ten thousand.*
* We regard these as "round numbers."
The account in the Book of Kings (2 Kings 14:7) adds that the victorious Jewish army marched on to Sela, or Petra, where, according to 2 Chronicles 25:12, the wretched prisoners were "cast down from the height of Sela." Needless objection has been taken to the transport of prisoners over what is sometimes described as so long and difficult a journey.
Chiefly for this reason,* the localization of the "Valley of Salt" has also been called in question. But if we suppose the battlefield to have been the southern part of the valley, these objections are removed.** And obviously it would be the policy of the victorious army to penetrate into the heart of the conquered country, take its capital,*** and by an act of terrible vengeance to strike terror into the people.
* The other objections are weak.
** According to Badeker, the whole journey from Jebel Usdum to Petra occupies only from 18 to 20 hours; and if from this we subtract about four and a half hours to the chalk cliffs which bound "the valley," we have little more than thirteen hours to travel, of which only two or three could really be called difficult. Besides, the Arabah south of the chalk cliffs bears marks of having been, when Ezion Geber stood, the road of communication from the Gulf of Akabah into Jewish territory.
*** Sela was less than forty miles from the Dead Sea.
It must have been a marvelous sight which met the Jewish host as they descended from the east into that surpassingly grand defile which opens into the so-called Wady Musa - the "Valley of Moses "* - the site of the ancient, Sela, "rock " - better known by its later name of Petra. The "cleft," or Sik, which formed the only access to it, passes between perpendicular rocks of red sandstone, rising to a height of from 100 to 300 feet.
* For the origin of the name, and indeed for a detailed account of Petra, we must refer to the special literature on the subject, only specially naming Badeker's Handbook, and the late Dean Stanley's Sinai and Palestine. Upon the description of the latter (pp. 86-90) our brief account is based. Comp. also Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, vol. Ii. chap. viii.
It follows the winding course of a torrent which rises in the mountains half an hour thence, at a spot said to be that where the rod of Moses had brought the water from the smitten rock. For an hour and a half we pass through this gorge, between rocky walls that "overlap and crumble and crack," their intervening heights "throughout almost as narrow as the narrowest part of the defile of Pfeffers." At the entrance we pass under an arch that spans the chasm. Our progress is along what had once been a paved way, where the torrent had been "diverted," "along troughs in the rocks, into a water-conduit for the city." Festoons of the caper-plant and wild ivy and oleanders fringe the road, which winds like a river, affording at every turn the surprise of new views. The cliffs are red - in the sunshine, scarlet; in the shadow, black. Then through a narrow opening, where the rocks here overarch, we find ourselves suddenly at a turn of the road in face of a temple, with its pale pink pillars, all hewn into the rock. For all here is rock - rock graves, streets of rock, rock dwellings, rock temples, rock monuments; gorgeous rocks, dull crimson streaked with purple, over which seem to flow ribbons of yellow and blue. Again the road narrows through the streets of tombs, till it passes into the bottom of the rock-enclosed hollow or valley, with its branching valleys of rocks. This is the site of Petra now a desolation, but once a city of splendor and wealth, the central station for the commerce from India.
For further description this is not the place.* It was into the midst of all this wondrous glory of nature and wealth of man that the Jewish army marched with its ten thousand captives. There cannot be doubt that the victorious host plundered and laid waste Sela. This explains how Amos does not mention it, but only Bozrah** (Amos 1:12), which seems to have become the capital of Edom.
* See it and the plan of Petra in Badeker. We only note that Petra is about halfway between the southern end of the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akabah.
** About sixteen miles south-east of the Dead Sea.
Similarly, it is not named by the later prophets, except in Isaiah 16:1 and 42:11; and it only again emerges into importance in the fourth century before our era. But the most terrible scene yet remained to be enacted in the conquered city. We can scarcely be mistaken in supposing that the victors marched or drove their captives through its streets across to the western bank of the rivulet. There up the western cliffs mounts "a staircase" of broad steps "hewn out of the rocks." "High up in these cliffs, between two gigantic walls of cliff, stands a temple." It must be here, or on the cliffs above and around - or perhaps on the Acropolis somewhat to the south of it that we have to look for "the height of Sela" (2 Chronicles 25:12* - lit., "the top," or "head"), whence the ten thousand Edomite captives were hurled, their shattered limbs dashing from cliff and rock, and their mangled remains strewing the heights and covering the ground beneath. But as they that long afterwards laid waste Jerusalem changed its name to Aelia Capitolina, so did King Amaziah change that of Sela into Joktheel, "the subdued of God" (2 Kings 14:7). Yet neither the one nor the other name, given by man in his pride, did long continue.**
* In the A.V. "top of the rock."
** Even this circumstance seems to betoken a contemporary notice.
It is a horrible, heart-sickening scene of history, so utterly un-Jewish in character that we can only account for its enactment by the state of moral degradation which the contemporary prophets Hosea and Amos describe in such vivid language. Yet another terrible inheritance, besides the guilt of this deed, did Judah bring back from the campaign against Edom. We can readily imagine how deeply the rock-city had impressed the mind of the king. But one of its chief features, which still first attracts the traveler, is the startling appearance and weird location of its temples. An Eastern mind, not religious, but superstitious, would readily come under the spell of these divinities whose temples were so weird and grand, so thoroughly in accord with nature around.*
* On the character of Edomite worship, with its human sacrifices, comp. Dollinger, Heidenth. u. Judenth. p. 405. On Edom generally, comp. Lengerke, Kenaan, i. pp. 296-302. Josephus (Ant. 15:7, 9) speaks of a god Koze, worshipped by the Idumaeans. This divinity is probably the Qaziu of the Nabathean and Hauranitic inscriptions, and the Kassios of the Phoenicians. Comp. Herzog, Real-Enc. 4. p. 41.
Be this as it may, on his return from Edom King Amaziah brought with him its idols, and did worship to them, although the notice of it in 2 Chronicles (25:14) seems to imply personal rather than national or public idolatry. None the less was Divine anger kindled against such a Jewish and Davidic king. In vain was Divine warning sent to him by "a prophet." The king replied by coarse sneers and threats, which, needless to say, so far from silencing the Divine messenger, only led to the announcement of near judgment.* And the sacred narrative expressly marks the connection between this and the later conspiracy which cost the king his life (2 Chronicles 25:27).
* We mark as significant of the state of Amaziah, that the prophet appeals in his first message not to higher duty, but to the common sense and experience of the king (2 Chronicles 25:15). The first part of the king's reply, "Have we [viz., the king and his advisers] made thee counselor of the king?" is taken up in the reply of the prophet: "I know that God has counseled [so lit., using the same word as the king - the meaning being "determined"], because thou hast done this, and not hearkened unto my counsel" [again the same word]. To the threat of the king, "Forbear - why shouldest be smitten?" the prophet replies by announcing the king's destruction. We note, first, that the prophet does not appear to have had any previous commission to that effect; secondly, that his prediction seems an inferential prophecy, based on his knowledge of the Divine dealings; thirdly, that it was necessary, not only for the vindication of the prophet's mission, but for that of the authority of Jehovah; and, lastly, that the king's destruction was dependent on his disobedience. All these inferences embody permanent principles.
Two characteristics which have so often impressed us in the course of this Divine history appear in this narrative also. For, first, the Divine decree, in this instance of judgment, was not immediately carried out, and to some it might seem to tarry. And, further, the execution of this decreed destruction came not in sudden or miraculous manner, but in what might be regarded as the natural course of events, through popular dissatisfaction at gratuitously provoked national disaster. Thus, however real the connection between the Divine agency and Amaziah's destruction, it would, on both the grounds above mentioned, require the eye of faith to perceive it. And this also is of permanent meaning: that the teaching of God is only to those who are capable of learning it.
It might almost seem as if the victory over Edom had infatuated the king and his council, filling them with unbounded self-confidence and overweening self-esteem. For, since they discarded God, was it not the prowess and might of Judah which had wrought the victory over Edom? Very significantly, the account of Judah's defeat by Israel in the Book of Chronicles is introduced by the notice, "And the king took counsel." He had taunted the prophet as not being a counselor to the king, and the prophet had announced to him the counsel of God to his destruction.* It would now appear how the king's own chosen counselors would themselves bring about this "counsel" of God.
* See the previous note.
As we have suggested, it is not unlikely that the war between Judah and Israel really grew out of the dismissal of the Israelitish auxiliaries from the host of Judah. This would be the more probable if the account of Josephus is trustworthy, that Amaziah had hired these soldiers directly from the king of Israel, and that on their return to their homes they had laid waste Judaean territory. And this would also better account for the challenge to fight* which Amaziah, with advice of his council, addressed to Jehoash, king of Israel, than to view it as a demand for submission and return to obedience to the Davidic rule, which, according to Josephus, formed the burden of this message.
* Such is also the view of Kimchi. "Let us look one another in the face" - let us fight: as it were, see who is the better man - a characteristic Oriental phrase.
If the challenge of Amaziah was peculiarly Oriental and boastful in its tone, the reply of Jehoash equaled and even surpassed it in these respects. The allegory* which he used about the "thorn" in Lebanon that had sought a family alliance with the cedar, meant that it was absolute folly on the part of Amaziah to regard himself as the equal of Jehoash.
* This, rather than a parable.
Yet this was implied in his purpose of measuring himself with him. A contest between them! Why, a beast of the field in Lebanon passing over the thorn would crush it down.* Then followed the mocking application of the simile:
"Thou hast indeed smitten Edom make thyself glorious [enjoy thy glory], and abide at home' why shouldest thou meddle** with evil, that thou fall, thou and Judah with thee?" (2 Kings 14:10.)
* A "thornbush," not, "a thistle," as in the A.V.
** In the Hithpael, when the word is used in connection with war.
The advice was sound, though extremely provocative to one in the mood of Amaziah. But Jehoash did not await his attack. Marching southwards, he met the Judaean army at Beth Shemesh, the south-eastern point in the ancient possession of Dan, close to the border of Philistia,* situated in a beautiful valley only eight or nine hours west of Jerusalem. The battle was most disastrous for Judah. The army fled; Amaziah was taken prisoner; and the Israelitish host advanced unopposed to Jerusalem. Here they made a breach in the wall 400 cubits (or about 600 feet**) wide, from the northern gate of Ephraim (or Benjamin, the present Damascus gate)to that in the north-west corner of the wall, where it runs southward.
* Here the Philistines first deposited the Ark (1 Samuel 6:12-14).
** The ancient Jewish cubit was two spans, each of three hand-breadths, the handbreadth being four fingers wide, i.e., a cubit = 6 handbreadths, = 24 fingerbreadths.
Thus the city would be laid open towards the north, or the land of Israel. Josephus (Ant. ix. 9, 3) has it that Jehoash through this breach made triumphal entry into Jerusalem, carrying his royal prisoner with him.* The victor plundered the Temple of what treasures it still contained in charge of one Obed-Edom.** He also stripped the royal palace of its valuables, and taking with him "hostages" - probably from the chief nobles - returned to Samaria.***
* Less credit attaches to his notice that Jehoash had threatened to kill Amaziah unless he persuaded the inhabitants of Jerusalem to open the city to him. Evidently there could not have been any idea of holding out but Josephus may have felt it desirable thus to account for an easy capture of the city which offered such stubborn resistance to the Romans.
** 2 Chronicles 25:24. But probably the booty from the Temple was inconsiderable. Comp. 2 Kings 12:18. Perhaps the name Obed-Edom, as treasurer of the Temple at that time, may in itself be significant. In any case, the special mention of the name marks this as a contemporary notice.
*** That Jehoash left Amaziah on the throne indicates how completely the power of the latter must have been broken.
The war between Judah and Israel probably occurred quite near the close of the reign of Jehoash, king of Israel. As Amaziah of Judah reigned altogether twenty-nine years (2 Kings 14:2), and survived Jehoash for fifteen years (verse 17), we conclude that the Judaeo-Israelitish war had occurred in the fourteenth, and the Edomite war probably in the thirteenth, year of the reign of Amaziah. The fifteen years which followed after the death of Jehoash were full of trouble to the king of Judah. At last the general dissatisfaction, caused by the disasters of the war and the attempted introduction of foreign rites, culminated in a revolution at Jerusalem. Amaziah escaped to Lachish, in the low country of Judah (Joshua 15:33, 39), on the road from Hebron to Gaza.
Lachish has sometimes been erroneously identified with the present Tel-el-Hasi. Its more correct location* seems to be, passing from Eleutheropolis [the Biblical Libnah] westwards to Ajlan, the ancient Eglon, whence at a distance of about forty-five minutes the ruins of Umm Lakis - the ancient Lachish are - reached.
* Comp. Guerin, La Judee i. pp. 299, etc.; Badeker, p. 203.
As usually, the ancient city lay on the top of a hill. Among its ruins many cisterns are found. The country around is undulating, and two great wadys open on either side. Lachish was, as we know, strongly fortified (2 Chronicles 11:9); it was besieged by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14, 17; Isaiah 36:2); and could offer a stout resistance to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 34:7). In short, it was one of the strong fortresses towards Egypt, although, from the friable nature of the building materials, its ruins, as those of other similarly-constructed places, are not considerable. In the time of Solomon, Lachish had been one of the "chariot-cities," for which alike its situation near the Egyptian emporium of horses (1 Kings 9:19; 10:26-29), and the plentiful pasturage around, would specially fit it. From the prophecies of Micah (1:13), it appears to have been the first Judaean city to adopt the idolatrous worship of the northern kingdom, which thence passed into Jerusalem.
But the strong walls of Lachish could not afford security to Amaziah. The conspirators from Jerusalem followed the king, and his dead body was brought back to Jerusalem - perhaps in the very chariot in which he had made his escape.* Yet even this circumstance, as well as his honorable burial with his royal ancestors, and the elevation to the throne of his son, "by all the people of Judah," indicate that although the discontent was not confined to the capital, yet the people generally were wholly averse to any change of dynasty, such as had characterized every revolution in Israel.**
* 2 Kings 14:20: "And they carried [lit. brought] him upon the horses," with the definite article, probably to mark the chariot as that in which he had gone.
** Similarly, the murder of Joash, the father of Amaziah, had not been followed, as in Israel, by the enthronement of one of the conspirators.