CHAPTER 6 - JEHOSHAPHAT, (FOURTH) KING OF JUDAH
The Reproof and Prophey of - Jehu - Resumption of the Reformation in Judah - Institution of Judges and of a Supreme Court in Jerusalem - Incursion of the Moabites and their Confederates - National Fast and the Prayer of the King - Prophecy of Victory - The March to Tekoa - Destruction of the Enemy - The Valley of Berakhah - Return to Jerusalem and to the Temple.
(2 Chronicles 19, 20:1-34)
BEFORE continuing the history of Israel, we turn aside to complete that of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. It will be remembered* that he had succeeded his father Asa in the fourth year of King Ahab's reign.
* See Vol. 5.
At that time Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old; and as his reign lasted for twenty-five years (1 Kings 22:42; 2 Chronicles 20:31), it follows that he died at the age of sixty, which, when we consider the annals of the royal houses of Judah and Israel, must be considered a protracted life. A few other particulars are given us connected with Jehoshaphat's accession. Thus we learn that his mother's name was Azubhah,* the daughter of Shilchi. Again, we gather how energetically he took in hand at the beginning of his reign the religious reformation commenced by his father Asa.**
* Thenius renders the name by "the liberated" - our Francisca.
** See Vol. 5.
But the want of true sympathy on the part of his subjects prevented the full success of his measures. The idol-groves and heights, dedicated to Baal and Astarte, were indeed destroyed (2 Chronicles 17:6), but it was found impossible to abolish the corrupt worship of Jehovah celebrated on "the high places" (1 Kings 22:43; 2 Chronicles 20:33). Beyond these brief notices, the narrative in the Book of Kings only indicates that at that period there was no king in Edom, but that the country was ruled by a governor. This is manifestly stated in order to explain how the maritime expedition to Ophir could have been undertaken without provoking resistance on the part of Edom, in whose territory Ezion-Geber was situate. But the sacred text affords no information to account for this state of matters in Edom.*
* Keil and Ewald suggest that the Edomites had taken part in the expedition of Ammon and Moab against Judah (2 Chronicles 20); Thenius supposes that the reigning family of Edom had died out, and that Jehoshaphat had taken advantage of the disputes for the succession, to re-assert the supremacy of Judah. But all these are mere conjectures.
The scanty details about the reign of Jehoshaphat furnished in the Book of Kings - which deals mainly with the history of the northern kingdom - are supplemented in the Book of Chronicles. The compilers of the latter had evidently before them, amongst other sources of information, a prophetic history of that reign: "The Chronicles [or, the words] of Jehu, the son of Hanani, which are inserted in the book of the Kings of Israel"* (2 Chronicles 20:34, comp. 1 Kings 22:45).
* Thus correctly, and not as in our A.V. There seems to have been "a book" or "chronicles" "of the kings of Judah and Israel," which is frequently referred to either by that name (2 Chronicles 16:11; 25:26; 28:26), or as "the book of the kings of Israel and Judah" (2 Chronicles 27:7; 35:27; 36:8), or as "the book of the kings of Israel" (2 Chronicles 20:34) or "the words ["acts"?] of the kings of Israel" (2 Chronicles 33:18) The term Israel in the last two cases is taken in the wider sense as embracing Judah and Israel. All these names represent one work, into which, among others, "the words" or "chronicles" of Jehu, the son of Hanani, were incorporated.
It was this Jehu, who, on the return of Jehoshaphat from the expedition against Ramoth-Gilead, announced to the king the Divine displeasure. Better than any other would he be acquainted with the spiritual declension in the northern kingdom, since it was he who had been sent to pronounce on Baasha, king of Israel, the judgment that should overtake him and his people for their apostasy (1 Kings 16:1, etc.). And who so fit to speak fearlessly to Jehoshaphat as the son of him who had formerly suffered imprisonment at the hands of Asa, the father of Jehoshaphat, for faithfully delivering his commission from God (2 Chronicles 16:7-10)? The message which he now brought was intended to point out the incongruity of Jehoshaphat's alliance with Ahab.
The punishment which the prophet announced as its sequence, came when the king experienced the effects of that other unholy alliance, in which Ammon and Moab combined against Judah (2 Chronicles 20). Again had Jehoshaphat to learn in the destruction of his fleet at Ezion-Geber (2 Chronicles 20:37) that undertakings, however well-planned and apparently unattended by outward danger, can only end in disappointment and failure, when they who are the children of God combine with those who walk in the ways of sin.
But in Jehoshaphat the warning of the prophet wrought that godly repentance which has not to be repented of Jehu had declared how God, in His condescension, acknowledged that "nevertheless there are good things found in thee" - and this, not merely as regarded his public acts in the abolition of open idolatry in his country, but also that personal piety which showed itself in preparing his own heart to seek after God. And now the sense of his late inconsistency led him all the more earnestly to show that he did not regard the religious condition of his late allies as a light matter. Once again he took in hand the religious reformation begun at the commencement of his reign. (2 Chronicles 17:7-10)*
* See Vol. 5.
The account of the present movement is the more interesting that it furnishes proof of the existence of the Book of Deuteronomy at that time, long before the memoirs were written on which the Books of Chronicles are based. For, as we shall presently see, there are here constant references to the legislation in the Book of Deuteronomy, and that not pointedly and with a show of emphasis - such as we would have expected if Deuteronomy had been only lately invented or introduced - but in a manner which indicates a long admitted authority, so that its legislation had permeated the people, and its principles required only to be alluded to as something universally acknowledged, - not vindicated as something recently introduced. This line of argument, bringing out the undesigned evidences of the antiquity of the Mosaic legislation, seems to us to possess far more convincing force than much of the specious reasoning on the other side, which has of late been so confidently advanced. And while on this ground the reader should be warned against hastily adopting conclusions inconsistent with the assured truth of the Divine Word, he should also be encouraged to mark, in careful study, the many passages containing undesigned references, which are only intelligible on the supposition, not only of the existence, but of the long and generally acknowledged authority of the Mosaic legislation.
The reformation initiated by Jehoshaphat was carried out by him personally. For this purpose he traversed the country from its southern boundary (Beer-sheba) to its northern (Mount Ephraim). His main object was to "bring back" the people "to Jehovah, the God of their fathers." Partly in attainment of this, and partly to render the reformation permanent, he revised the judicial arrangements of the country, in strict accordance with the Deuteronomic Law. For, according to he Divine appointment, the judges in Israel were not only intended to pronounce sentences and to decide cases, but to guide and direct the people on all questions, civil and religious, and so to prevent the commission of sin or crime. The account given of the work of Jehoshaphat embraces these three points: the appointment of Judges; the principle underlying their authority; and the rule for its exercise.
As regards the first of these, we remember that the appointment of judges had been first proposed by Jethro (Exodus 18:21, 22), and then carried out by Moses (Deuteronomy 1:13,etc.)* Such judges were now appointed for every "fenced city." This, not only because these places were the most important in the land, but in order to protect the administration of justice,** and in accordance with the fundamental law in Deuteronomy 16:18.
* We mark here the organic connection of the Deuteronomic legislation with the Book of Exodus
** Rabbinic Law has always made a distinction between these "walled cities" - dating, it was supposed, from the original occupation of the land - and other towns.
As regards the principle on which their authority rested, the judges were to bear in mind that they were the representatives of the Great Judge, Whose aid was accordingly promised them (2 Chronicles 19:6) - and this also in accordance with the Deuteronomic statement: "for the judgment is God's" (Deuteronomy 1:17). From this it follows, as the practical rule, that in the administration of justice they were to be influenced by the fear of Jehovah, and not by fear of, nor favor for, man. And here we mark once more the implied reference to Deuteronomy 1:16, 17; 16:18-20.*
* There is nothing in any way inconsistent either with the Mosaic legislation or this later institution of Jehoshaphat in the appointment by David of Levites to be judges (1 Chronicles 23:4; 26:29). For it is not anywhere said that the Levites were the only judges.
Besides these provincial judges, Jehoshaphat appointed in Jerusalem a tribunal of appeal consisting of priests, Levites, and the chiefs of clans. With this mixed tribunal rested the final decision in all matters concerning religion and worship (2 Chronicles 19:8: "for the judgment of Jehovah;" and ver. 11: "in all matters of Jehovah"), as well as in civil and criminal cases (ver. 8: "in strifes; ver. 11: "all the king's matters"). Moreover, it was their duty to warn,* advise, and instruct in all doubtful cases, whether criminal, civil, or ecclesiastical, in which they were applied to either by the inferior judges or the people. As president of this mixed commission, Amariah, the high-priest,** was appointed for ecclesiastical, and Zebadiah, the chief of the tribe of Judah, for civil cases.
* The expression here is peculiar, and recalls Exodus 18:20, where the word is rendered (in the A.V.) "teach."
** Perhaps the same as he who is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6:11.
And now that came to pass which had been predicted by the prophet in punishment of the alliance with Ahab. Happily, it found the people prepared by the religious revival which had passed over the land. As we infer from the tenor of the whole narrative, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and "with them certain of the Meunites,"* made an unexpected raid "from beyond the Sea" - that is, the Dead Sea - "from Edom."**
* This is the correct reading, and not "the Ammonites," as in the A.V. nor yet, as has sometimes been suggested: "the Edomites." The Meunites were probably a tribe inhabiting Arabia Petraea; no doubt the same as those called Meunim in 1 Chronicles 4:41 (rendered in our A.V. by "habitations"). Comp. 2 Chronicles 26:7.
** By a copyist's error the Hebrew text has sra (Syria) instead of sda (Edom). It could not have been from "Syria," and the d of the one would be easily misread as r .
They could come swooping round the southern end of the Dead Sea, or passing over by the southern ford, just opposite Engedi, the ancient Hazazon-tamar - probably the oldest city in the world. The name Engedi, "the spring of the goat," is derived from the manner in which its fertilizing spring seems to leap in its descent. The older name, Hazazon-tamar - either "rows of palms," or "the cutting of the palm-trees" - originated from the palms which once grew there in great luxuriance. But the site is now desolate, and where once palms flourished, and the most precious wine of Judaea was grown, only naked terraces shelve up the mountain-side. The plain or rather slope is described* as extending about a mile and a half from north to south, being bounded on either side by a Wady with perennial water. Engedi touches the outrunners of the mountains of Judah.
* Canon Tristram, Land of Palestine, pp. 284, 285.
Several hundred feet up the slope, about a mile and a half from the shore of the Dead Sea, the little streamlet which has given the place its name, dashes down in thin but high cataracts. Below these falls, and in the center of the plain, are the ruins which mark the site of the ancient city. As in the time of Abraham the Assyrian hordes (Genesis 14), so now these marauding invaders, had swarmed across - scarcely an army, rather a multitude of wild nomads. Along the plain, up the slope to the crest of the mountain, through the wadys, they crowded. It seemed a countless host, as their wild war-shouts resounded from hill-top and valley, or their dark forms covered the heights, whence they gazed across the wilderness towards the rich and coveted cities of Judah. So it seemed to the terrified fugitives, who brought exaggerated tidings of their numbers to Jehoshaphat. And only a distance of fifteen hours separated these plundering tribes from Jerusalem. Not a moment was to be lost. The first measure was to invoke the aid of the LORD. A fast was proclaimed throughout Judah - a day of humiliation for national sins and of prayer in the time of their great need (comp. Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Joel 2:15). Jehoshaphat himself took his place in the most prominent part of the temple, "before the new court" - either one newly constructed, or else renovated, and probably intermediate between "the great" or outer court, and "the court of the priests" (comp. 2 Chronicles 4:9). If so, it probably represented what at a later period was known as "the court of the women," and Jehoshaphat stood on the height afterwards covered by the steps leading up to the court of the priests, where the Levites who conducted the musical part of the temple-services were stationed. There, within sight and hearing of all, like Solomon of old, and as a true king, he represented and guided his people in their act of national humiliation and prayer. Ordinarily prayer did not form part of the symbolical temple-services. The latter could only be performed by the God-appointed priesthood. This, even on the lower ground* that had others been allowed to intrude into these services, it would soon have led to the introduction of heathen rites. And of this there were only too many instances in the history of Israel. Never, except on such solemn occasions, was the voice of public prayer heard in the Temple, and the king did not intrude, but acted right kingly, when he now spake in name and on behalf of his people.
* There were other and much deeper grounds for confining the sacrificial services to the Aaronic priesthood. But this lower consideration should also be noticed as of interest and importance.
There could not have been a prayer of more earnest or realizing faith than that of Jehoshaphat. It began by the acknowledgment of Jehovah as the true and living God (v. 6), and as the Covenant-God, Who in fulfillment of His promises had given them the land (v. 7). In virtue of this twofold fact, Israel had reared the sanctuary (v. 8), and consecrated alike the Temple and themselves by solemnly placing themselves in the keeping of God, to the disowning of all other help or deliverance (v. 9). To this invocation at the dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 6:28-30) a visible response had been made when the fire came from heaven to consume the sacrifice, and the glory of Jehovah filled the house (2 Chronicles 7:1). On this threefold ground the prayer of Jehoshaphat now proceeded. A season of sore strait had now come, and they made their solemn appeal to God. Israel was in the right as against their enemies, who had neither pretext in the past for their attack, nor yet justification for it in the present. Nay, they had come against the possession of God which He had given to His people. It was His cause; they had no might of their own, but their eyes were upon the LORD (vers. 10-12).
When the Church, or individual members of it, can so believe and so pray, deliverance is at hand. But yet another act of faith was necessary. Theirs had been the faith of expectancy and of worship; it must now be that of work. As Israel stood in prayer before Jehovah, His Spirit came upon one of the ministering Levites, Jahaziel, a descendant of Mattaniah, perhaps the same as Nethaniah, a son of Asaph (1 Chronicles 25:2, 12). The message which he delivered from the LORD corresponded to every part of the prayer which had been offered. It bade them dismiss all fears - not because there was not real danger, but because the battle was Jehovah's. On the morrow were they to go forth to meet the enemy. But "it is not for you [it is not yours=ye need not] to fight in this [battle]: place yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah with you" (vers. 15-17). And humbly, reverently, did king and people bend before the LORD in the worship of praise and believing expectancy.
Early next morning they prepared to obey the Divine direction. It was to be a battle such as had never been witnessed since Jericho had fallen at the blast of the trumpets of the LORD when His Ark compassed its walls. And they prepared for it in such manner as host going to battle had never done. In the morning, as Judah marched out of the gate of Jerusalem, the king addressed to his people only this one command: to have faith - faith in their God, and in the word sent by His prophets. Thus should they be established. Then "he advised the people,"* and with one accord they appointed for their avant-guard the sacred Temple-singers,** robed in their "holy array,"*** who were to chant, as if marching in triumphal procession, the well-known words of worship: "Praise Jehovah, for His mercy endureth for ever" (comp. 2 Chronicles 7:3, 6).
* Gave them counsel. The expression indicates a preponderance or lead on the part of the king. Compare the same expression in 2 Kings 6:8. This, rather than as in the A.V., or even the R.V. (ver. 21.)
** It seems to me most likely that these were the ordinary Levite-singers and priests, although a different inference has been drawn from the absence of the article before "singers."
*** The expression, 2 Chronicles 20:21, rendered "beauty of holiness" in our A.V., means" holy array," and probably refers to the full Temple-dress of the priests and Levites.
If never before an army had so marched to battle, never, even in the marvelous history of Israel, had such results been experienced. Above Engedi the chalk cliffs rise 2000 feet above the Dead Sea, although even that height is still 2000 feet below the watershed. We have now reached the barren and desolate wilderness, known as that of Judah, which stretches southward to the mountains of Hebron, and northward to Tekoa. Innumerable wadys and broad valleys stretch between mountain crests, often of fantastic shape. It is a pathless wilderness, seamed by rocky clefts and caves. There, just past the cave where David had been in hiding from Saul, up the cliff Hazziz - perhaps the modern El Husasah - had the foe swarmed, and then deployed through the broad wady which leads towards Tekoa. Here, "at the end of the gully,"* would Israel descry them, see their defeat, yet not have to do battle for the victory.
* A.V.: "the end of the brook" (ver. 16). For the scenery generally comp. Robinson's Researches, Vol. 1. pp. 486 to 488, and 508.
And as on that bright day the host of Israel looked towards the ascent from Engedi, they caught sight of the enemy. At that moment as by a preconcerted signal they began to sing and to praise the LORD. Then a strange scene ensued. It were an entire misunderstanding of what Scripture designates as the agency of God, to apply to angelic combatants the words: "Jehovah set liers in wait [ambushments] against the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir."
For God Himself does that which happens in His all-overruling Providence, even though it come to pass in the orderly succession of natural events. There was no need of summoning angel-hosts. It is not only quite conceivable, but best explains the after-event, that a tribe of Edomites, kindred but hostile to that which had joined Ammon and Moab in their raid, should have lain in ambush in one of the wadys, waiting till the main body of the combatants had passed, to fall on the rear-guard, or probably on the camp followers, the women and children, and the baggage. They would calculate that long before the men in advance could turn upon them in those narrow defiles, they would have escaped beyond the reach of pursuit. And it is equally conceivable that when the attack was made the main body of the Ammonites and Moabites may have regarded it as a piece of treachery preconcerted between the clan of Edomites who were with them, and the kindred clan that lay in ambush. All this is quite in accordance with what might still take place among the Bedouins of those regions. But, in such circumstances, the Ammonites and Moabites would naturally turn to attack their treacherous allies, and thus the first scene in the strange drama of this internecine battle would be enacted. Mutual distrust once awakened, and passions kindled, we can easily understand how "every one helped to destroy another" - the havoc being probably increased by the peculiar character of the country, which here abounds in steep precipices and sudden rocky heights and descents.
While this strange battle was proceeding, Judah had advanced, to the sound of hymns of praise, beyond Tekoa, far as the last watch-tower, where usually an outlook was kept over the wilderness, so that timely tidings might be brought of any sudden raid by the wild tribes of the East. As "they looked unto the multitude," which they had erst descried in the dim distance, there was "not an escaping," no hasty flight, as in such circumstances might have been expected, and it seemed as if only dead bodies were left strewing the ground. Possibly the Judaeans had, on reaching the height of Tekoa, caught sight of the host, and then lost it again when descending into the wady.*
* The reader who will take the trouble of examining the interesting account of the district in Robinson's Biblical Researches, Vol. 1. pp. 486-508 (passim), will see how our suggestions are borne out by the description of the great American traveller.
When, on ascending once more, they stood at the watch-tower, they would see what formerly had been "a. multitude," now only dead bodies, nor could they, from the conformation of the district, discern any fugitives. It now only remained for Judah to seize the spoil* of the battle in which Jehovah had gained the victory.
* The word "dead bodies" has been supposed to be a misreading or miswriting for," raiments." But I see no need for this hypothesis, and would propose translating: "accoutrement [substance, all belonging to an army - the Hebrew word as in Daniel 11:13], dead bodies [probably of animals], and precious vessels."
For three days the removal of the spoil continued. On the fourth, the host of Judah gathered in a valley, to the north-west of Tekoa, which from the solemn thanksgiving there made received the name of "Berakhah," "blessing," in the sense of praise and thanksgiving. It is deeply interesting to find that after the lapse of so many centuries this memorial of Jehovah's deliverance and of Jehoshaphat's and Judah's solemn thanksgiving still continues. Many masters have since held possession of the land: Assyrian, Roman, Moslem, Christian, and Turk: but the old name of the valley of blessing remains in the modern name Bereikut.*
* See Robinson, u.s., pp. 490, 491; Vol. 3., p. 275. It has been supposed by some (Thenius, Hitzig) that the valley of Berakhah was just outside the walls of Jerusalem, being, indeed, that part of the Kidron Valley known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:2, 12), where in the future the judgment on the heathen enemies of God and of His Israel would take place. But the text does not admit of this identification (see vers. 27, 28). Accordingly, most critics have suggested that "the valley of Jehoshaphat" derived its name from the expectation that the future judgment would resemble in character the victory which God had given to Jehoshaphat. But may it not have been that Jehoshaphat had there addressed to the people, when going out to battle, the words recorded in verses 20 and 21, and that this gave its name to the valley?
And from "the valley of blessing" Jehoshaphat and his people returned, as in procession, to the Temple, there again to praise the LORD, Who had, as ever, been faithful to His promise. And this gratitude of a believing people is one of the most true and beautiful results of the religious revival which Judah had experienced. It almost sounds like heaven's antiphon to Jerusalem's praise, when we read that "the terror of Elo-him" was upon all the kingdoms of the lands round about Judah, and that "his God" gave Jehoshaphat "rest round about."*
* Zoekler has aptly noted a number of circumstances tending to confirm the historical accuracy of this narrative. Among these he reckons (1) that the dark sides in Jehoshaphat's character and reign are not withheld. (2) The mention of definite names, such as that of the high-priest Amariah, and of Zebadiah, the chief of the tribe of Judah (2 Chronicles 19:11). (3) The detailed references to localities such as to "the new court" in the Temple (20:5), or to circumstances, such as the inspiration of the Levite Jahaziel (ver. 14). (4) That the prophet Joel must have known and treated this account as historical when he spoke of "the valley of Jehoshaphat." (5) The reference to other historical documents (ver. 34). (6) Lastly, we must here include the evidence afforded by the so-called "Moabite Stone," to which further reference will be made in the sequel.