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167

CHAPTER XV

AMAZIAH OF JUDAH

b.c. 796-783 (?)

2 Kings xiv. 1-22

"All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."—Matt. xxvi. 52.

The fate of Amaziah ("Jehovah is strong"), son of Joash of Judah, resembles in some respects that of his father. Both began to reign prosperously: the happiness of both ended in disaster. Amaziah at his accession was twenty-five years old. He was the son of a lady of Jerusalem named Jehoaddin. He reigned twenty-nine years, of which the later ones were passed in misery, peril, and degradation, and, like the unhappy Joash, and at about the same age, he fell the victim of domestic conspiracy.

The hereditary principle was too strongly established to enable the murderers of Joash to set it aside, but Amaziah was not at first strong enough to make any head against them. In time he became established in his kingdom, and then his earliest act was to bring the head conspirators, Jozacar and Jehozabad, to justice. It was noted as a most remarkable circumstance that he did not put to death their children, and extirpate their houses. In acting thus, if he were influenced by168 a spirit of mercy, he showed himself before his time; but such mercy was completely contrary to the universal custom, and was also regarded as most impolitic. Even the comparatively merciful Greeks had the proverb, "Fool, who has murdered the sire, and left his sons to avenge him!"275275   Νήπιος ὃς πατέρα κτείνας υἱοὺς καταλείπει. Comp. Q. Curtius, vi. 11: "Lege cautum erat ut propinqui eorum qui regi insidiati cum ipsis necarentur." Cic., Ad Brut., 15.

In epochs of the wild justice of revenge, when blood-feuds are an established and approved institution, the policy of letting vengeance only fall on the actual offender was regarded as fatal. Perhaps Amaziah felt it beyond his power to do more than bring the actual murderers to justice, and it is possible that their children may have been among the conspirators who, in his hour of shame, intimately destroyed him.

The historian, it is true, attributes his conduct to magnanimity, or rather to his obedience to the law, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers; but every man shall die for his own sin." This is a reference to Deut. xxiv. 16, and is probably the independent comment of the writer who recorded the event two centuries later. In the gradual growth of a milder civilisation, and the more common dominance of legal justice, such a law may have come into force, as expressive of that voice of conscience which is to sincere nations the voice of God. That the book of Deuteronomy, as a book, was not in existence in its present form till four reigns later we shall hereafter see strong reasons to believe. But even if any part of that book was in existence, it is not easy to understand how Amaziah would have been able to decide that the law which forbade the punishment of169 the children with the offending parents was the law which he was bound to follow, when Moses and Joshua and other heroes of his race had acted on the olden principle. The innocent families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were represented as having been swallowed up with the ambitious heads of their houses. Joshua and all Israel had not only stoned Achan, but with him all his unoffending house. What, too, was the meaning of the law which established the five Cities of Refuge as the best way to protect the accidental homicide from the recognised and unrebuked actions of the Goel—the avenger of blood? The vengeance of a Goel was regarded, as it is in the East and South to this day, not as an implacable fierceness, but as a sacred duty, the neglect of which would cover him with infamy. Judging of our documents by the impartial light of honest criticism, it seems impossible to deny that the law of Deuteronomy was the law of an advancing civilisation, which became more mild as justice became firmer and more available. If Deuteronomy represents the legislation of Moses, we can only say that in this respect Amaziah was the first person who paid the slightest attention to it. Such exceptional obedience may well excite the notice of the historian, in whose pages we see that prophets like Ahijah, Elijah, and Elisha had, again and again, in accordance with the spirit of their times, contemplated the total excision, not only of erring kings, but even of their little children and their most distant kinsfolk.

Further:—We are told that Amaziah "did that which was right in the sight of Jehovah: he did according to all things as Joash his father did." The Chronicler also bestows his eulogy on Amaziah; but having told such dark stories of the apostasy of Joash170 to Asherah-worship and his murder of the prophets, he could hardly add "as Joash his father did"; so he omits those words. The reservation that Amaziah did right, "yet not like David his father" (2 Kings xiv. 3), "but not with a perfect heart" (2 Chron. xxv. 2), is followed by the stock abatement about the bamoth, and the sacrifices and incense burnt in them. This was a crime in the eyes of writers in b.c. 540, but certainly not in the eyes of any king before the discovery of the "Book of the Law" in the reign of Josiah, b.c. 621. We are compelled, therefore, by simple truth, to ask, How came it that Amaziah should be so scrupulous as to observe the Deuteronomic law by not slaying the sons of his father's murderers, while he does not seem to be aware, any more than the best of his predecessors, that while he obeyed one precept he was violating the essence and spirit of the entire code in which the precept occurs? The one main object, the constantly repeated law of Deuteronomy, is the centralisation of all worship, and the rigid prohibition of every local place of sacrifice. Strange that Amaziah should have selected for attention a single precept, while he is profoundly unconscious of, or indifferent to, the fact that he is setting aside the regulation with which the law, as Deuteronomy represents it, begins and ends, and on which it incessantly insists!

Joash had been something of a weakling, as though the gloom of his early concealment in the Temple and the shadow of priestly dominance had paralysed his independence. Amaziah, on the other hand, born in the purple, was vigorous and restless. When he was secure upon the throne, and had done his duty to his father's memory, he bent his efforts to recover Edom. The Edomites had revolted in the days of his great-grandfather171 Jehoram,276276   2 Kings viii. 20-22. and since then "did tear perpetually,"277277   Amos i. 11. harassing with incessant raids the miserable fellahîn of Southern Judah. They reaped the crops of the settled inhabitants, cut down their fruit-trees, burnt their farmsteads, and carried their children into cruel and hopeless slavery. One verse tells us all that the historian knew, or cared to relate, of Amaziah's campaign. He only says that it was eminently successful. Amaziah confronted the Edomites in the Valley of Salt,278278   The Valley () of Salt is "the plain of the Sabkah," about two miles broad, between the southern end of the Dead Sea and the hills which separate the Ghôr from the Arabah (Seetzen, Reisen, ii. 356; Robinson, Researches, ii. 450, 488). David had won a great victory there (2 Sam. viii. 13; Psalm lx., title). on the border of Edom, to the south of the Dead Sea, and inflicted upon them a signal defeat. He not only slaughtered ten thousand of them, but, advancing southwards, he stormed and captured Selah or Petra, their rocky capital, two days' journey north of Ezion-Geber, on the gulf of Akabah.279279   Selah, "a rock" (Πέτρα). Eusebius calls it Rekem. Considering the natural strength of Petra, amid its mountain-fastnesses, this was a victory of which he might well be proud, and he marked his prowess by changing the name of the city to Joktheel, "subdued by God." The historian, copying the ancient record before him, says that Selah continued to be so called "to this day."280280   It is the name also of a city of Judah (Josh. xv. 38). This is a curious instance of close transcription, for it is certain that Selah can only have retained the name of Joktheel for a very short period, and had lost it long before the days of the Exile. Even in the reign of Ahaz (b.c. 735-715) the Edomites had so completely recovered172 lost ground that they were able to make predatory excursions into Judah, and to threaten Hebron, which would have been obviously impossible if they were not masters of their own chief capital.281281   2 Chron. xxviii. 17; Jos., Antt., XII. viii. 6. The district which Amaziah seems to have conquered was mainly west of the Arabah. He wished to restore Elath, and perhaps to carry out the old commerce with the Red Sea which Solomon began, and which had fired the ambition of Jehoshaphat. The conquest of Selah secured the road for his commercial caravans.

So far the older and better authorities. The Chronicler expands the story in his usual fashion, in which historical and critical verity is so often compelled, if not to suspect the disease of exaggeration and the bias of Levitism, at least to feel uncertainty as to the details. He says that Amaziah collected an army of three hundred thousand men of Judah, trained them to a high state of discipline, and armed them with spear and shield. He hired in addition one hundred thousand Israelitish mercenaries, mighty men of valour, at the heavy cost of one hundred talents of silver. He was rebuked by a prophet for employing Israelites, "because the Lord was not with them," so that if he used their aid he would certainly be defeated. Amaziah asked what he was to do for the hundred talents, and the prophet told him that Jehovah could give him much more than this.282282   2 Chron. xxv. 5-10, 13. So he dismissed his Ephraimites who, returning home in great fury, "fell upon the cities of Judah," from Samaria even unto Beth-horon, killed three thousand of their inhabitants, and took much spoil. Amaziah, however, defeated the Edomites without their aid, and not only slew ten thousand, but took173 captive ten thousand more, all of whom he dashed to pieces by hurling them from the top of the rock of Petra.283283   Κατακρημνισμός. This mode of execution prevailed till quite recent times in the little republic of Andorra.

Then, by an apostasy much more astounding than even that of his father Joash, he took home with him the idols of Mount Seir, worshipped them, and burnt incense before them. Jehovah sends a prophet to rebuke him for his senseless infatuation in worshipping the gods of the Edomites whom he had just so utterly defeated; but Amaziah returns him the insolent answer, "Who made thee of the king's council? Be silent, or I will put thee to death." The prophet met his ironical sneer with words of deeper meaning: "If I am not on your council, I am on God's. Because thou hast not hearkened to my counsel, I know that God has counselled to destroy thee."

The later writer thus accounts for the folly and overthrow of this valorous and hitherto eminently pious king. Certain it is, as we shall narrate in the next chapter, that, in spite of warning, he had the temerity to challenge to battle the warlike Joash ben-Jehoahaz of Israel, grandson of Jehu. The kings met at Beth-Shemesh, and Amaziah was utterly routed, with consequences so shameful to himself and to Jerusalem that he was never able to hold up his head again. He could but eat away his own heart in despair, a ruined man. After this he "lived" rather than reigned fifteen years longer.284284   2 Kings xiv. 17. The phrase that "he lived fifteen years" is unusual, and seems to imply that the historian saw,— "In more of life true life no more." The wall of Jerusalem, broken down near the Damascus Gate, on the side towards174 Israel, for a space of four hundred cubits, was a standing witness of the king's infatuated folly. His people were ashamed of him, and weary of him; and at last, seeing that nothing more could be expected of one whose spirit had evidently been broken from impetuosity into abjectness, they formed a conspiracy against him. To save his life he fled to the strong fort of Lachish, a royal Canaanite city, in the hills to the south-west of Judah.285285   Josh. x. 6, 31, xv. 39; 2 Kings xviii. 17; 2 Chron. xi. 9. But they pursued him thither, and even Lachish would not protect him. He was murdered. They threw the corpse upon a chariot, conveyed it to Jerusalem, and buried it in the sepulchres of his fathers. The people quietly elevated to the throne his son Azariah, then sixteen years old, who had been born the year before his father's crowning disgrace. What became of the conspirators we do not know. They were probably too strong to be brought to justice, and we are not told that Azariah even attempted to visit their crime upon their heads.


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