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175

CHAPTER XVI

THE DYNASTY OF JEHU

  b.c.    
Jehoahaz 814-797 2 Kings xiii. 1-9
Joash 797-781 " xiii. 10-21, xiv. 8-16
Jeroboam II. 781-740 " xiv. 23-29
Zechariah 740 " xv. 8-12

"Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."—1 Sam. ii. 30.

Israel had scarcely ever sunk to so low a nadir of degradation as she did in the reign of the son of Jehu. We have already mentioned that some assign to his reign the ghastly story which we have narrated in our sketch of the work of Elisha. It is told in the sixth chapter of the Second Book of Kings, and seems to belong to the reign of Jehoram ben-Ahab; but it may have got displaced from this epoch of yet deeper wretchedness. The accounts of Jehoahaz in 2 Kings xiii. are evidently fragmentary and abrupt.

Jehoahaz reigned seventeen years.286286   I have not thought it worth while to unravel by a series of uncertain conjectures the careless, and often self-contradictory, synchronism of the reigns of the kings in the two kingdoms. The compiler of these books evidently attached little or no importance to accurate chronology. For instance, the data of 2 Kings xiii. 1, 10, do not coincide; and instead of entering into tedious, doubtful, and confusing guesses, I have contented myself throughout with giving for the reigns of the kings such dates, or approximate dates, as seem to result from the several notices compared with the contemporary annals of Assyria. Naturally, he did not disturb the calf-worship, which, like all his176 predecessors and successors, he regarded as a perfectly innocent symbolic adoration of Jehovah, whose name he bore and whose service he professed. Why should he do so? It had been established now for more than two centuries. His father, in spite of his passionate and ruthless zeal for Jehovah, had never attempted to disturb it. No prophet—not even Elijah nor Elisha, the practical establishers of his dynasty—had said one word to condemn it. It in no way rested on his conscience as an offence; and the formal condemnation of it by the historian only reflects the more enlightened judgment of the Southern Kingdom and of a later age. But according to the parenthesis which breaks the thread of this king's story (2 Kings xiii. 5, 6), he was guilty of a far more culpable defection from orthodox worship; for in his reign, the Asherah—the tree or pillar of the Tyrian nature-goddess—still remained in Samaria, and therefore must have had its worshippers. How it came there we cannot tell. Jezebel had set it up (1 Kings xvi. 33), with the connivance of Ahab. Jehu apparently had "put it away" with the great stêlê of Baal (2 Kings iii. 2), but, for some reason or other, he had not destroyed it. It now apparently occupied some public place, a symbol of decadence, and provocative of the wrath of Heaven.

Jehoahaz sank very low. Hazael's savage sword, not content with the devastation of Bashan and Gilead, wasted the west of Israel also in all its borders. The king became a mere vassal of his brutal neighbour at Damascus. So little of the barest semblance of177 power was left him, that whereas, in the reign of David, Israel could muster an army of eight hundred thousand, and in the reign of Joash, the son and successor of Jehoahaz, Amaziah could hire from Israel one hundred thousand mighty men of valour as mercenaries, Jehoahaz was only allowed to maintain an army of ten chariots, fifty horsemen, and ten thousand infantry! In the picturesque phrase of the historian, "the King of Syria had threshed down Israel to the dust," in spite of all that Jehoahaz did, or tried to do, and "all his might." How completely helpless the Israelites were is shown by the fact that their armies could offer no opposition to the free passage of the Syrian troops through their land. Hazael did not regard them as threatening his rear; for, in the reign of Jehoahaz, he marched southwards, took the Philistine city of Gath, and threatened Jerusalem. Joash of Judah could only buy them off with the bribe of all his treasures, and according to the Chronicler they "destroyed all the princes of the people," and took great spoil to Damascus.287287   2 Chron. xxiv. 23.

Where was Elisha? After the anointing of Jehu he vanishes from the scene. Unless the narrative of the siege of Samaria has been displaced, we do not so much as once hear of him for nearly half a century.

The fearful depth of humiliation to which the king was reduced drove him to repentance. Wearied to death of the Syrian oppression of which he was the daily witness, and of the utter misery caused by prowling bands of Ammonites and Moabites—jackals who waited on the Syrian lion—Jehoahaz "besought the Lord,288288   2 Kings xiii. 4; "besought," literally "stroked the face of" (1 Sam. xiii. 12; 1 Kings xiii. 6). and the Lord hearkened unto him, and gave178 Israel a saviour, so that they went out from under the hand of the Syrians: and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents, as beforetime." If this indeed refers to events which come out of place in the memoirs of Elisha; and if Jehoahaz ben-Jehu, not Jehoram ben-Ahab, was the king in whose reign the siege of Samaria was so marvellously raised, then Elisha may possibly be the temporary deliverer who is here alluded to.289289   The reference is usually explained of Jeroboam II. On this supposition we may see a sign of the repentance of Jehoahaz in the shirt of sackcloth which he wore under his robes, as it became visible to his starving people when he rent his clothes on hearing the cannibal instincts which had driven mothers to devour their own children. But the respite must have been brief, since Hazael (ver. 22) oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. If this rearrangement of events be untenable, we must suppose that the repentance of Jehoahaz was only so far accepted, and his prayer so far heard, that the deliverance, which did not come in his own days, came in those of his son and of his grandson.

Of him and of his wretched reign we hear no more; but a very different epoch dawned with the accession of his son Joash, named after the contemporary King of Judah, Joash ben-Ahaziah.

In the Books of Kings and Chronicles Joash of Israel is condemned with the usual refrains about the sins of Jeroboam. No other sin is laid to his charge; and breaking the monotony of reprobation which tells us of every king of Israel without exception that "he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord," Josephus boldly ventures to call him "a good man, and the antithesis to his father."

179

He reigned sixteen years. At the beginning of his reign he found his country the despised prey, not only of Syria, but of the paltry neighbouring bandit-sheykhs who infested the east of the Jordan; he left it comparatively strong, prosperous, and independent.

In his reign we hear again of Elisha, now a very old man of past eighty years. Nearly half a century had elapsed since the grandfather of Joash had destroyed the house of Ahab at the prophet's command. News came to the king that Elisha was sick of a mortal sickness, and he naturally went to visit the death-bed of one who had called his dynasty to the throne, and had in earlier years played so memorable a part in the history of his country. He found the old man dying, and he wept over him, crying, "My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof."290290   Comp. 2 Kings ii. 12. The address strikes us with some surprise. Elisha had indeed delivered Samaria more than once when the city had been reduced to direst extremity; but in spite of his prayers and of his presence, the sins of Israel and her kings had rendered this chariot of Israel of very small avail. The names of Ahab, Jehu, Jehoahaz, call up memories of a series of miseries and humiliations which had reduced Israel to the very verge of extinction. For sixty-three years Elisha had been the prophet of Israel; and though his public interpositions had been signal on several occasions, they had not been availing to prevent Ahab from becoming the vassal of Assyria, nor Israel from becoming the appanage of the dominion of that Hazael whom Elisha himself had anointed King of Syria, and who had become of all the enemies of his country the most persistent and the most implacable.

180

The narrative which follows is very singular. We must give it as it occurs, with but little apprehension of its exact significance.

Elisha, though Joash "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord," seems to have regarded him with affection. He bade the youth take his bow,291291   Lit., "Make thine hand to ride upon thy bow." There is not the slightest taint of belomancy in the story (comp. Ezek. xxi. 21), nor does it allude to shooting an arrow into an enemy's country as a declaration of war (Virg., Æn., ix. 57). and laid his feeble, trembling hands on the strong hands of the king. Then he ordered an attendant to fling open the lattice, and told the king to shoot eastward towards Gilead, the region whence the bands of Syria made their way over the Jordan. The king shot, and the fire came back into the old prophet's eye as he heard the arrow whistle eastward. He cried, "The arrow of Jehovah's deliverance, even the arrow of victory over Syria: for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them."292292   Aphek, a name of good omen (1 Kings xx. 26-30). Then he bade the young king to take the sheaf of arrows, and smite towards the ground, as if he was striking down an enemy. Not understanding the significance of the act, the king made the sign of thrice striking the arrows downwards, and then naturally stopped.293293   Thrice. Comp. Num. xxii. 28; Exod. xxiii. 17, etc. But Elisha was angry—or at any rate grieved.294294   LXX., ἐλυπήθη. "You should have smitten five or six times," he said, "and then you would have smitten Syria to destruction. Now you shall only smite Syria thrice." The king's fault seems to have been lack of energy and faith.

There are in this story some peculiar elements which it is impossible to explain, but it has one beautiful181 and striking feature. It tells us of the death-bed of a prophet. Most of God's greatest prophets have perished amid the hatred of priests and worldlings. The progress of the truth they taught has been "from scaffold to scaffold, and from stake to stake."

"Careless seems the Great Avenger. History's pages but record

One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word—

Truth for ever on the scaffold, wrong for ever on the throne;

Yet that scaffold sways the Future, and behind the dim unknown

Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own!"

Now and then, however, as an exception, a great prophetic teacher or reformer escapes the hatred of the priests and of the world, and dies in peace. Savonarola is burnt, Huss is burnt, but Wiclif dies in his bed at Lutterworth, and Luther died in peace at Eisleben. Elijah passed away in storm, and was seen no more. A king comes to weep by the death-bed of the aged Elisha. "For us," it has been said, "the scene at his bedside contains a lesson of comfort and even encouragement. Let us try to realise it. A man with no material power is dying in the capital of Israel. He is not rich: he holds no office which gives him any immediate control over the actions of men; he has but one weapon—the power of his word. Yet Israel's king stands weeping at his bedside—weeping because this inspired messenger of Jehovah is to be taken from him. In him both king and people will lose a mighty support, for this man is a greater strength to Israel than chariots and horsemen are. Joash does well to mourn for him, for he has had courage to wake the nation's conscience; the might of his personality has sufficed to turn them in the true direction, and rouse their moral and religious life. Such men as Elisha182 everywhere and always give a strength to their people above the strength of armies, for the true blessings of a nation are reared on the foundations of its moral force."

The annals are here interrupted to introduce a posthumous miracle—unlike any other in the whole Bible—wrought by the bones of Elisha. He died, and they buried him, "giving him," as Josephus says, "a magnificent burial." As usual, the spring brought with it the marauding bands of Moabites. Some Israelites who were burying a man caught sight of them, and, anxious to escape, thrust the man into the sepulchre of Elisha, which happened to be nearest at hand. But when he was placed in the rocky tomb, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet. Doubtless the story rests on some real circumstance. There is, however, something singular in the turn of the original, which says (literally) that the man went and touched the bones of Elisha;295295   See R.V., margin. and there is proof that the story was told in varying forms, for Josephus says that it was the Moabite plunderers who had killed the man, and that he was thrown by them into Elisha's tomb.296296   Antt., IX. viii. 6. It is easy to invent moral and spiritual lessons out of this incident, but not so easy to see what lesson is intended by it. Certainly there is not throughout Scripture any other passage which even seems to sanction any suspicions of magic potency in the relics of the dead.297297   See Ecclus. xlviii. 13: "When he was dead, he prophesied in the tomb." (But the clause may be spurious.)

But Elisha's symbolic prophecy of deliverance from Syria was amply fulfilled. About this time Hazael had died, and had left his power in the feebler hands of his183 son Benhadad III. Jehoahaz had not been able to make any way against him (2 Kings xiii. 3), but Joash his son thrice met and thrice defeated him at Aphek. As a consequence of these victories, he won back all the cities which Hazael had taken from his father on the west of Jordan. The east of Jordan was never recovered. It fell under the shadow of Assyria, and was practically lost for ever to the tribes of Israel.

Whether Assyria lent her help to Joash under certain conditions we do not know. Certain it is that from this time the terror of Syria vanishes. The Assyrian king Rammânirâri III. about this time subjugated all Syria and its king, whom the tablets call Mari, perhaps the same as Benhadad III. In the next reign Damascus itself fell into the power of Jeroboam II., the son of Joash.

One more event, to which we have already alluded, is narrated in the reign of this prosperous and valiant king.

Amity had reigned for a century between Judah and Israel, the result of the politic-impolitic alliance which Jehoshaphat had sanctioned between his son Jehoram and the daughter of Jezebel. It was obviously most desirable that the two small kingdoms should be united as closely as possible by an offensive and defensive alliance. But the bond between them was broken by the overweening vanity of Amaziah ben-Joash of Judah. His victory over the Edomites, and his conquest of Petra, had puffed him up with the mistaken notion that he was a very great man and an invincible warrior. He had the wicked infatuation to kindle an unprovoked war against the Northern Tribes. It was the most wanton of the many instances in which, if Ephraim did not envy Judah, at least Judah vexed Ephraim,184 Amaziah challenged Joash to come out to battle, that they might look one another in the face. He had not recognised the difference between fighting with and without the sanction of the God of battles.

Joash had on his hands enough of necessary and internecine war to make him more than indifferent to that bloody game. Moreover, as the superior of Amaziah in every way, he saw through his inflated emptiness. He knew that it was the worst possible policy for Judah and Israel to weaken each other in fratricidal war, while Syria threatened their northern and eastern frontiers, and while the tread of the mighty march of Assyria was echoing ominously in the ears of the nations from afar. Better and kinder feelings may have mingled with these wise convictions. He had no wish to destroy the poor fool who so vaingloriously provoked his superior might. His answer was one of the most crushingly contemptuous pieces of irony which history records, and yet it was eminently kindly and good-humoured. It was meant to save the King of Judah from advancing any further on the path of certain ruin.

"The thistle that was in Lebanon" (such was the apologue which he addressed to his would-be rival) "sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying: Give thy daughter to my son to wife.298298   Possibly some matrimonial proposal may have lain behind the interchange of messages. The cedar took no sort of notice of the thistle's ludicrous presumption, but a wild beast that was in Lebanon passed by, and trod down the thistle."

It was the answer of a giant to a dwarf;299299   Stade. For similar parables see Judg. ix. 8; Herod., i. 141; Rawlinson, Anc. Mon., iii. 226. and to185 make it quite clear to the humblest comprehension, Joash good-naturedly added: "You are puffed up with your victory over Edom: glory in this, and stay at home. Why by your vain meddling should you ruin yourself and Judah with you? Keep quiet: I have something else to do than to attend to you."

Happy had it been for Amaziah if he had taken warning! But vanity is a bad counsellor, and folly and self-deception—ill-matched pair—were whirling him to his doom. Seeing that he was bent on his own perdition, Joash took the initiative and marched to Beth-Shemesh, in the territory of Judah.300300   Beth-Shemesh, "the house of the sun." It is mentioned in 1 Sam. vi. 9, 12, and was a priestly city, and one of Solomon's store-cities (1 Kings iv. 9). It ultimately fell into the hands of the Philistines (2 Chron. xxviii. 18). It is not the Beth-Shemesh of Josh. xix. 22. There the kings met, and there Amaziah was hopelessly defeated. His troops fled to their scattered homes, and he fell into the hands of his conqueror. Joash did not care to take any sanguinary revenge; but much as he despised his enemy, he thought it necessary to teach him and Judah the permanent lesson of not again meddling to their own hurt. He took the captive king with him to Jerusalem, which opened its gates without a blow.301301   Josephus says that this was the fault of Amaziah, whom Joash of Israel threatened with death if Jerusalem resisted. We do not know whether, like a Roman conqueror, he entered it through the breach of four hundred cubits which he ordered them to make in the walls,302302   This implies that at least half the northern wall was dismantled—the wall towards Ephraim. but otherwise he contented himself with spoil which would swell his treasure, and amply compensate for the expenses of the expedition which had been186 forced upon him. He ransacked Jerusalem for silver and gold; he made Obed-Edom, the treasurer, give up to him all the sacred vessels of the Temple, and all that was worth taking from the palace. He also took hostages—probably from among the number of the king's sons—to secure immunity from further intrusions. It is the first time in Scripture that hostages are mentioned. It is to his credit that he shed no blood, and was even content to leave his defeated challenger with the disgraced phantom of his kingly power, till, fifteen years later, he followed his father to the grave through the red path of murder at the hand of his own subjects.303303   Some have conjectured that Amaziah of Judah became more or less the vassal of Joash of Israel, and that the vassalage continued till after the death of Jeroboam II. (1) For Jeroboam II. held Elath till his death, when Uzziah recovered it (2 Kings xiv. 22), and he certainly could not have held this southern Judæan port if Judah was entirely independent; and (2) we read that Uzziah did not become king at all till the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam II. But if Amaziah only survived Joash of Israel fifteen years (2 Kings xiv. 17), Uzziah must have succeeded in the fifteenth year of Jeroboam. Is the explanation to be found in the fact that up to that time—for twelve years—Jeroboam did not allow the Judæans to elect a king? or are these among the hopeless confusion of synchronism which cannot be reconciled at all with our present data?

After this we hear no further records of this vigorous and able king, in whom the characteristics of his grandfather Jehu are reflected in softer outline. He left his son Jeroboam II. to continue his career of prosperity, and to advance Israel to a pitch of greatness which she had never yet attained, in which she rivalled the grandeur of the united kingdom in the earlier days of Solomon's dominion.


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