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b.c. 851-843


b.c. 843-842

2 Kings viii. 16-24, 25-29

"Bear like the Turk, no brother near the throne."—Pope.

The narrative now reverts to the kingdom of Judah, of which the historian, mainly occupied with the great deeds of the prophet in Israel, takes at this period but little notice.

He tells us that in the fifth year of Jehoram of Israel, son of Ahab, his namesake and brother-in-law, Jehoram of Judah, began to reign in Judah, though his father, Jehoshaphat, was then king.141141   The following genealogy may help to elucidate the troublesome identity of names:— OMRI ____|____ | | JEHOSHAPHAT Ahab = Jezebel | _______|__________________ | | | | | Ahaziah Jehoram Athaliah = Jehoram (of Israel). (of Israel). | (of Judah). | Ahaziah (of Judah).

The statement is full of difficulties, especially as we have been already told (i. 17) that Jehoram ben-Ahab of Israel began to reign in the second year of100 Jehoram ben-Jehoshaphat of Judah, and (iii. 1) in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat. It is hardly worth while to pause here to disentangle these complexities in a writer who, like most Eastern historians, is content with loose chronological references. By the current mode of reckoning, the twenty-five years of Jehoshaphat's reign may merely mean twenty-three and a month or two of two other years; and some suppose that, when Jehoram of Judah was about sixteen, his father went on the expedition against Moab, and associated his son with him in the throne. This is only conjecture. Jehoshaphat, of all kings, least needed a coadjutor, particularly so weak and worthless a one as his son; and though the association of colleagues with themselves has been common in some realms, there is not a single instance of it in the history of Israel and Judah—the case of Uzziah, who was a leper, not being to the point.142142   Jotham ben-Uzziah was not the colleague of his father, but his public representative.

The kings both of Israel and of Judah at this period, with the single exception of the brave and good Jehoshaphat, were unworthy and miserable. The blight of the Jezebel-marriage and the curse of Baal-worship lay upon both kingdoms. It is scarcely possible to find such wretched monarchs as the two sons of Jezebel—Ahaziah and Jehoram in Israel, and the son-in-law and grandson of Jezebel, Jehoram and Ahaziah, in Judah. Their respective reigns are annals of shameful apostasy, and almost unbroken disaster.

Jehoram ben-Jehoshaphat of Judah was thirty-two years old when he began his independent reign, and reigned for eight deplorable years. The fact that his mother's name is (exceptionally) omitted seems to101 imply that his father Jehoshaphat set the good example of monogamy.143143   The only other king of Judah whose mother's name is not mentioned (perhaps because his father Jotham had but one wife) is Ahaz. Jehoram was wholly under the influence of Athaliah, his wife, and of Jezebel, his mother-in-law, and he introduced into Judah their alien abominations. He "walked in their way, and did evil in the sight of the Lord." The Chronicler fills up the general remark by saying that he did his utmost to foster idolatry by erecting bamoth in the mountains of Judah, and compelled his people to worship there, in order to decentralise the religious services of the kingdom, and so to diminish the glory of the Temple. He introduced Baal-worship into Judah, and either he or his son was the guilty builder of a temple to Baalim, not only on the "opprobrious mount" on which stood the idolatrous chapels of Solomon, but on the Hill of the House itself. This temple had its own high priest, and was actually adorned with treasures torn from the Temple of Jehovah.144144   2 Kings xi. 18; 2 Chron. xxi. 11, xxiv. 7. So bad was Jehoram's conduct that the historian can only attribute his non-destruction to the "covenant of salt" which God had made with David, "to give him a lamp for his children always."

But if actual destruction did not come upon him and his race, he came very near such a fate, and he certainly experienced that "the path of transgressors is hard." There is nothing to record about him but crime and catastrophe. First Edom revolted. Jehoshaphat had subdued the Edomites, and only allowed them to be governed by a vassal; now they threw off the yoke. The Jewish King advanced against them to102 "Zair"—by which must be meant apparently either Zoar (through which the road to Edom lay), or their capital, Mount Seir.145145   Vulg., Seira; Arab., Sa'ir (but the historian never uses the name Mount Seir); LXX., Σιώρ. There is perhaps some corruption in the text, and the reading of the Chronicler "with his princes" shows that it may have once been צַמ־שָׂרָיו. There he was surrounded by the Edomite hosts; and though by a desperate act of valour he cut his way through them at night in spite of their reserve of chariots, yet his army left him in the lurch.146146   2 Kings viii. 21. "The people" (i.e., the army of Judah) "fled to their tents." Apparently this means that they slunk away home. The word "tents" is a reminiscence of their nomad days, like the treasonable cry, "To your tents, O Israel." Edom succeeded in establishing its final independence, to which we see an allusion in the one hope held out to Esau by Isaac in that "blessing" which was practically a curse.

The loss of so powerful a subject-territory, which now constituted a source of danger on the eastern frontier of Judah, was succeeded by another disaster on the south-west, in the Shephelah or lowland plain. Here Libnah revolted,147147   Josh. x. 29-39. and by gaining its autonomy contracted yet farther the narrow limits of the southern kingdom.

The Book of Kings tells us no more about the Jewish Jehoram, only adding that he died and was buried with his fathers, and was succeeded by his son Ahaziah. But the Book of Chronicles, which adds far darker touches to his character, also heightens to an extraordinary degree the intensity of his punishment. It tells us that he began his reign by the atrocious murder of his six younger brothers, for whom, following the old precedent of Rehoboam, Jehoshaphat had provided103 by establishing them as governors of various cities. As his throne was secure, we cannot imagine any motive for this brutal massacre except the greed of gain, and we can only suppose that, as Jehoram ben-Jehoshaphat became little more than a friendly vassal of his kinsmen in Israel, so he fell under the deadly influence of his wife Athaliah, as completely as his father-in-law had done under the spell of her mother Jezebel. With his brothers he also swept away a number of the chief nobles, who perhaps embraced the cause of his murdered kinsmen. Such conduct breathes the known spirit of Jezebel and of Athaliah. To rebuke him for this wickedness, he received the menace of a tremendous judgment upon his home and people in a writing from Elijah, whom we should certainly have assumed to be dead long before that time. The judgment itself followed. The Philistines and Arabians invaded Judah, captured Jerusalem, and murdered all Jehoram's own children, except Ahaziah, who was the youngest. Then Jehoram, at the age of thirty-eight, was smitten with an incurable disease of the bowels, of which he died two years later, and not only died unlamented, but was refused burial in the sepulchres of the kings. In any case his reign and that of his son and successor were the most miserable in the annals of Judah, as the reigns of their namesakes and kinsmen, Ahaziah ben-Ahab and Jehoram ben-Ahab, were also the most miserable in the annals of Israel.

Jehoram was succeeded on the throne of Judah by his son Ahaziah. If the chronology and the facts be correct, Ahaziah ben-Jehoram of Judah must have been born when his father was only eighteen, though he was the youngest of the king's sons, and so escaped from being massacred in the Philistine invasion. He104 succeeded at the age of twenty-two, and only reigned a single year. During this year his mother, the Gebîrah Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, and granddaughter of the Tyrian Ethbaal, was all-supreme. She bent the weak nature of her son to still further apostasies. She was "his counsellor to do wickedly," and her Baal-priest Mattan was more important than the Aaronic high priest of the despised and desecrated Temple. Never did Judah sink to so low a level, and it was well that the days of Ahaziah of Judah were cut short.

The only event in his reign was the share he took with his uncle Jehoram of Israel in his campaign to protect Ramoth-Gilead from Hazael. The expedition seems to have been successful in its main purpose. Ramoth-Gilead, the key to the districts of Argob and Bashan, was of immense importance for commanding the country beyond Jordan. It seems to be the same as Ramath-Mizpeh (Josh. xiii. 26); and if so, it was the spot where Jacob made his covenant with Laban. Ahab, or his successors, in spite of the disastrous end of the expedition to Ahab personally, had evidently recovered the frontier fortress from the Syrian king.148148   Jos., Antt., IX. vi. 1. Its position upon a hill made its possession vital to the interests of Gilead; for the master of Ramah was the master of that Trans-Jordanic district. But Hazael had succeeded his murdered master, and was already beginning to fulfil the ruthless mission which Elisha had foreseen with tears. Jehoram ben-Ahab seems to have held his own against Hazael for a time; but in the course of the campaign at Ramoth he was so severely wounded that he was compelled to leave his army under the command of Jehu, and to return to Jezreel, to be105 healed of his wounds. Thither his nephew Ahaziah of Judah went to visit him; and there, as we shall hear, he too met his doom. That fate, the Chronicler tells us, was the penalty of his iniquities. "The destruction of Ahaziah was of God by coming to Joram."

We have no ground for accusing either king of any want of courage; yet it was obviously impolitic of Jehoram to linger unnecessarily in his luxurious capital, while the army of Israel was engaged in service on a dangerous frontier. The wounds inflicted by the Syrian archers may have been originally severe. Their arrows at this time played as momentous a part in history as the cloth-yard shafts of our English bowmen which "sewed the French ranks together" at Poictiers, Creçy, and Azincour. But Jehoram had at any rate so far recovered that he could ride in his chariot; and if he had been wise and bravely vigorous, he would not have left his army under a subordinate at so perilous an epoch, and menaced by so resolute a foe. Or if he were indeed compelled to consult the better physicians at Jezreel, he should have persuaded his nephew Ahaziah of Judah—who seems to have been more or less of a vassal as well as a kinsman—to keep an eye on the beleaguered fort. Both kings, however, deserted their post,—Jehoram to recover perfect health; and Ahaziah, who had been his comrade—as their father and grandfather had gone together to the same war—to pay a state visit of condolence to the royal invalid. The army was left under a popular, resolute, and wholly unscrupulous commander, and the results powerfully affected the immediate and the ultimate destiny of both kingdoms.

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