CHAPTER 16 - JOSIAH (SIXTEENTH), JEHOAHAZ (SEVENTEENTH), JEHOIAKIM (EIGHTEENTH), KINGS OF JUDAH.
Retrospect - Political History - Possible Reunion of Judah and Israel - The Fall of the Assyrian Empire - Incursion of the Scythians - Revolt and Independence of Babylonia - The Expedition of Pharaoh Necho - Resistance of Josiah to his Progress - Battle of Megiddo - Death and Burial of Josiah - Appointment, Deposition, and Captivity of Jehoahaz - Accession of Jehoiakim - Tribute to Egypt.
(2 KINGS 23:29-36; 2 CHRONICLES 35:20; 36:5.)
THE observant student of this history must have been impressed with the seemingly strange fact that, at the final crisis in the history of Judah, when that kingdom was hastening to its fall, monarchs of such opposite religious tendencies as Ahaz and Hezekiah, Amon and Josiah, should have succeeded one another. And it reflects most unfavorably on the moral and religious condition of the people that each reformation should, within so short a period, have been followed by a counter-reformation. On the other hand, it must be felt how gracious had been the divine dealing when, in succession to monarchs who, as we cannot but think, too truly represented the real state of the nation, pious kings were raised up, as if to give space for tardy repentance and recovery. Even the history of Manasseh would, in that sense, almost seem to have borne a symbolic meaning. But especially does the mind dwell on the administration of Josiah, with its very significant re-discovery and re-publication of the Law of Moses. As neither before nor after him was there any king whose heart was so "tender," and who so humbled himself before Jehovah (2 Kings 22:19), nor yet any who so "turned to Jehovah with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses" (2 Kings 23:25) - so we must surely regard his upraising at that crisis, his bearing, and his rule as of direct Divine grace and interposition.
It is when taking into wider consideration these two facts - regarding the people and the king - that we fully understand the Divine sentence of judgment upon Jerusalem and Judah (2 Kings 23:26, 27), and the personal mercy extended to Josiah (2 Kings 22:20). We have been hitherto occupied with the most important measures of his reign - that public religious reformation which had as its necessary sequence the abolition of private idolatrous practices (2 Kings 23:24). But the political history of the time is also of deepest interest.
Reference has already been made to the approximation between Judah and the remnant of Israel left in the northern kingdom. All indications point to the inference that hopes were entertained, if not plans actually formed, of a possible re-union of the two kingdoms under the sway of Josiah. Thus, just as the independent existence of Judah was about to cease, the national prospects might seem to human view more promising than for centuries past. The disappointment of these hopes must have shown that, even as Israel had at the first held the land, not by the power of man, but by the Divine appointment, so would no combination, however hopeful, succeed in restoring what only the God of Israel could bestow. And this has its lessons for the future, as well as in the past.
It has already been stated that Assyria was no longer able to suppress any attempts at independent action in Palestine. Under the brilliant but cruel reign of Asurbanipal (the son of Ezar-haddon) Assyria had reached the highest point of its might; but with it also commenced the decay of the cumbrous empire. Its beginning may be dated from the rebellion of Sammughes (Saosduchin, i.e., Samul-sum-iskun), the brother of Asurbanipal and viceroy of Babylon. That rebellion was indeed crushed, and its author perished in the flames, the victor himself assuming the crown of Babylon. But already other forces were in the field. Elam-Persia, the latest conquest of Assyria, rose in rebellion. These armies were indeed vanquished in two or rather three wars; but from the east the Medes invaded Assyria. The attack was unsuccessful, and cost the Median king, Phraortes, his life. But over Western Asia and far down to Egypt the power of Assyria was lost. And from the north of the Black Sea, from the steppes of Russia, the Scythians swept down and overran the country to the shores of the Mediterranean, and down to the borders of Egypt. There Psammetichus succeeded in buying them off, and the majority of the barbarians returned northwards. Some writers have supposed that they came into conflict with Josiah, and that Jeremiah 4:5-6:30, as well as some of the utterances of Zephaniah, refer to this, and that the presence of the invaders was perpetuated in the later name of Scythopolis for Beth-Shean.* But this is, to say the least, doubtful.** When, after many years,*** the Medes succeeded in finally repelling the Scythians, Assyria was utterly exhausted, and the fall of Nineveh at hand.
* Comp. Judith 3:11; 2 Maccabees 12:29, etc.
** Kautzsch in Riehm's Hand-Worterb. II. p. 1445b.
*** The actual number stated is twenty-eight years, but this seems exaggerated. The twenty-eight years would be between 633 and 605 B.C.
But before that an event had taken place of special importance in the history of Judah. The decline of Assyria had naturally rekindled the hopes of Egypt, its rival for the empire of the ancient world. Hitherto it had always been worsted in the contests with Assyria. But now, Pharaoh-Necho (really Necho II.), the son of Psammetichus (the founder of the twenty-sixth, Saite dynasty), resolved to attack the Assyrian power. To us a special interest attaches to Necho, since he was the first to attempt joining the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, although he had finally to desist from the enterprise.*
* On the previous existence of such a canal, see the Note in Rawlinson's Herodotus, II. pp. 242, 243. According to Herodotus (ii. 158), no fewer than 120,000 laborers perished in the undertaking of Necho.
Circumstances seemed indeed favorable to the expedition of Necho against Assyria. Asurbanipal had on his death (probably in 626 B.C.) bequeathed to his successor or successors* a very troubled heritage. In Babylonia** Nabo-palassar appears (in 626 or 625) as nominally a viceroy, but virtually independent of Assyria.
* The Assyrian monuments leave us without clear information, and accounts are here very confused.
** Of Babylonia more will be said in the sequel.
The expedition of Necho, to which reference is made in 2 Kings 23:29, and at greater length in 2 Chronicles 35:20-25, was made in the year 609 B.C., or sixteen years after Nabopalassar had becotne ruler of Babylonia. In 2 Kings 23:29 the expedition is expressly described as against "the king of Assyria." But here a difficulty arises. According to some authorities* the fall of Nineveh** preceded or coincided with the accession of Nabo-palassar to the Babylonian throne in 626 B.C.
* We cannot here enter into particulars, but refer generally to Schrader die Keilinschr u. d. A.T. pp. 358-361.
** To this reference will be made in the sequel.
In that case the expedition of Necho would have been against the Babylonian monarch, who would have been designated "King of Assyria" as successor to that power. According to other authorities the fall of Nineveh would have to be placed between the years 609 and 606 B.C. As Asurbanipal seems to have still occupied the throne in 626 B.C., and as we read of two sieges of Nineveh, it appears most likely that this (the first) expedition of Necho was still literally against "the king of Assyria."
Avoiding a march through the land of Judah, the Egyptian army advanced along the ordinary route followed towards the East. At the slope of the hills which separate the low coast tract south of Carmel from the great plain of Esdraelon, its progress was barred by a Judaean army under Josiah, holding the strong position of Megiddo, the modern el-Lejjun, which commanded the valley of the Kishon (called in 1 (3) Esd. i. 27 that of Mageddo), and also access to the mountains of Samaria. It is not easy to form a definite opinion as to the motives which induced Josiah to attempt arresting the march of Necho. But probably he may have been influenced by those plans for the re-union of Israel and Judah to which reference has already been made. He may have thought that the danger to the independence of the new kingdom would be much greater if Necho succeeded in the object of his expedition than if matters continued as they were. Of the two powers which threatened Palestine - Egypt and Assyria - the former was, at that time, certainly more to be dreaded. Besides, had Josiah succeeded, he would have secured not only the gratitude of Assyria, but the virtual, if not the nominal independence of his kingdom.
It was in vain that Necho remonstrated with Josiah. In the remarkable message* which his ambassadors were instructed to deliver (2 Chronicles 35:21), he probably did not refer to any special prophecies against Assyria, but rather to what he regarded as the general lesson which Josiah should derive from the history of Hezekiah, viewed in connection with subsequent events, as indicating the will of the God of Israel in regard to the destruction of Assyria.
* At the same time, such references to God - especially in the present circumstances - need not surprise us. Canon Cook (as quoted in the Speaker's Commentary, ad loc.) gives an almost exactly parallel expression from a Pharaoh of the year 750 B.C. The Eastern - in contradistinction to the Western- - mind, almost instinctively refers to the direct agency of the Divine Being certain human actions or remarkable events, and such expressions must not be too closely pressed according to our modern notions, nor yet literally understood.
But Josiah gave not heed to the warning. A decisive battle was fought on "the plain of Megiddo" (2 Chronicles 35:22). If the reading is correct that Josiah "disguised himself,"* we would almost be reminded of the similar device of Ahab (2 Chronicles 18:29).
* The LXX. reads (...) "he strengthened himself," instead of our Massoretic (...) "he disguised himself."
But the precaution, if adopted, was useless. Mortally wounded by the archers, Josiah was lifted from his chariot, and probably expired on the way to Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:30), whither they carried him. He was buried in "his own sepulcher" - apparently in the new place of sepulcher prepared by Manasseh (2 Chronicles 35:24; comp. 2 Kings 21:18, 26). General and deep was the mourning in Jerusalem and Judah for good King Josiah. The prophet Jeremiah composed a "lament" for him, which, although now lost, seems to have been inserted in a special book of "Laments" mentioned by the Chronicler (35:25). Nay, his memory and the "lament" for him continued in Israel - and the memorial, if not some of the words, of it are preserved in Jeremiah 22:10, 18, and so late as in Zechariah 12:11.
In truth, the defeat of the Judean army and the death of Josiah, not only put an end to his great reformatory movement, and to the hopes of the possible re-union and recovery of Israel and Judah, but it sounded the knell of Jewish independence. Henceforth Judah was alternately vassal to Egypt or Babylonia. According to 1 Chronicles 3:15, Josiah had four sons,* of whom the eldest, Johanan, seems to have died, either before his father or perhaps in the battle of Megiddo.
* The order in 1 Chronicles iii. 15 seems not quite exact, since Shallum or Jehoahaz (comp. Jeremiah 22:11) seems to have been older than Zedekiah (comp. 2 Kings 23:31; 24:18).
The other three, arranging them in the order of age, were Eliakim, afterwards called Jehoiakim; Shallum, afterwards called Jehoahaz; and Zedekiah. On the death of Josiah "the people of the land" made and anointed,* as his successor, not the eldest royal prince, but his younger brother Shallum, who, on his accession, assumed the name Jehoahaz, "Jehovah holds up" (comp. 2 Kings 23:30, with Jeremiah 22:11, and 1 Chronicles 3:15).
* This probably because his appointment was out of the regular succession.
From the fate which so speedily overtook him, we may infer that the popular choice of Jehoahaz was largely influenced by his opposition to Egypt. Of his brief reign of three months and, according to Josephus,* ten days, we only know that "he did the evil in the sight of Jehovah." If Josephus also characterizes him as "impure in his course of life," this may refer to the restoration of the lascivious rites of his grandfather's reign.
* Ant. 10. 5, 2.
Meantime, Necho had, after the battle of Megiddo, continued his march towards Syria. Thither, at Riblah (the modern Ribleh, on the Orontes) "in the land of Hamath," the victor summoned the new Jewish king.*
* This is, according to Josephus, the explanation of Jehoahaz's appearance in Riblah. Manifestly it is the most natural explanation of his presence there.
On his arrival, Jehoahaz, who had been crowned without the leave of Necho, was put in bonds. Necho does not seem, on this occasion, to have pursued his expedition against Assyria. The great battle at Carchemish, to which the chronicler refers by anticipation (2 Chronicles 35:20), was fought on a second expedition, three years later, when the Egyptian army under Necho was defeated with great slaughter by Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabopalassar. This was after the fall of Nineveh, and when the Babylonian or Chaldean empire had taken the place of the Assyrian. But on the present occasion Necho seems to have returned, before encountering the Assyrians, into Egypt, whither "he brought"* with him Jehoahaz, who died in captivity.
* Instead of "he came to Egypt" - (...) - 2 Kings 23:34, we read with the LXX. (...) "he brought him," which agrees with 2 Chronicles 36:4.
The Pharaoh appointed, in room of Jehoahaz, his brother Eliakim, who ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, being two years older than Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31). After a not uncommon practice (Comp. Genesis 41:45; Ezra 5:14; Daniel 1:7), and to show how entirely the new king was his subject, Necho changed his name, Eliakim, into Jehoiakim - "Jehovah setteth up" - the selection of the name being probably determined by a regard for its effect upon the people. A tribute of 100 talents of silver and one talent of gold was imposed upon the land. This sum, so small as compared with the tribute formerly imposed by Tiglath-pileser on Menahem of Samaria (2 Kings 15:19), and that given to Sennacherib by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:14), and amounting to only about 37,500 pounds in silver and 6,750 pounds in gold, affords evidence of the impoverishment of the country. After the example of Menahem of Samaria (2 Kings 15:20), Jehoiakim raised the tribute by a general tax upon the land. It was an ominous precedent to follow. But, to use the language of a great writer,* the twenty-three years which elapsed between the decease of Josiah and the final deportation to Babylon, were only "the dying time" of the kingdom of Judah.
* Ewald, as quoted by Bahr, ad loc.