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b.c. 781-740

2 Kings xiv. 23-29

If we had only the history of the kings to depend upon, we should scarcely form an adequate conception either of the greatness of Jeroboam II. or of the condition of society which prevailed in Israel during his long and most prosperous reign of forty-one years (b.c. 781-740). In the Books of Chronicles he is merely mentioned accidentally in a genealogy. The Second Book of Kings only devotes one verse to him (xiv. 25) beyond the stock formulæ of connection so often repeated. That verse, however, gives us at least a glimpse of his great importance, for it tells us that "he restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain." Those two lines sufficiently prove to us that he was by far the greatest and most powerful of all the kings of Israel, as he was also the longest-lived and had the longest reign. His victories flung a broad gleam of sunset over the afflicted kingdom, and, for a time, they might have beguiled the Israelites into lofty hopes for the future; but with the death of Jeroboam the light instantly faded away, and there was no after-glow.


And this sudden brightness, if it deceived others, did not deceive the prophets of the Lord. It happened in accordance with the promise of Jehovah given by Jonah, the son of Amittai, of Gath-Hepher;304304   2 Kings xiv. 25-27. There are other allusions to the historic events in 2 Kings x. 32, 33, xiii. 3-7, 22-25. Hitzig conjectures that Isa. xv., xvi., are "a burden of Moab" quoted from Jonah. but Amos and Hosea saw that the glory of the reign was hollow and delusive, and that the outward prosperity did but "skin and film the ulcerous place" below.

In truth, the possibility of this sudden outburst of success was due to the very enemy who, within a few years, was to grind Israel to powder. God pitied the deplorable overthrow of His chosen people: He saw that there was neither slave nor freeman—"neither any shut up, nor any left at large, nor any helper for Israel"; and in Jeroboam He gave them the saviour who had been granted to the penitence of Jehoahaz.305305   2 Kings xiii. 5, "The Lord gave Israel a saviour"; xiv. 27, "And He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Joash." Some suppose the saviour to be the Assyrian King. It was, so to speak, a last pledge to them of the love and mercy of Jehovah, which gave them a respite, and would fain have saved them altogether, if they had turned with their whole heart to Him. And, personally, Jeroboam II. seems to have been one of the better kings. Not a single crime is laid to his charge; for under the circumstances of its deep-rooted continuance through the reigns of all his predecessors, it cannot be deemed a heinous crime that he did not put down the symbolic cult of Jehovah by the cherubic emblems at Dan and Bethel. The fact that he had been named after the founder of the kingdom of Israel189 shows that the kingdom was proud of the valiant and Heaven-commissioned rebel who had thrown off the yoke of the house of Solomon. The house of Jehu admired his policy and his institutions. The son of Nebat did not by any means appear in the eyes of his people as only worthy of the monotonous epitaph, "who made Israel to sin." It is true that now the voice of prophecy in Israel itself began to denounce the concomitants of the "calf-worship"; but the voices of the Jewish herdsman of Tekoa and of the Israelite Hosea probably raised but faint murmurs in the ears of the warrior-king, with whom they do not seem to have come into personal contact. In no case would he rank them as equal in importance with the fiery Elijah or the king-making Elisha, who had been for four generations the counsellor of his race. Neither of those great prophets had insisted on the Deuteronomic law of a centralised worship, nor had they denounced the revered local sanctuaries with which Israel had been so long familiar. Jonah, indeed—who, if legend be correct, had been the boy of Zarephath, and the personal attendant of Elijah—had predicted the king's unbroken success, and had neither made it conditional on a religious revolution, nor, so far as we know, had in any way censured the existing institutions.

What rendered Jeroboam's glory possible was the immediate paralysis and imminent ruin of the power of Syria. The Israelitish king was probably on good terms with Assyria, and, during this epoch, three Assyrian monarchs had struck blow after blow against the house of Hazael. Damascus and its dependencies had received shattering defeats at the hands of Rammânirâri III., Shalmaneser III. (782-772), and Assurdan III. (772-754). Rammânirâri had made190 expeditions against Damascus (773) and Hazael (772), and Assurdan had invaded the Syrian domains in 767, 755, and 754. Syria had more than enough to do to hold her own in a struggle for life and death against her atrocious neighbour. With Uzziah in Judah, Jeroboam II. seems to have been on the friendliest terms; and probably Uzziah acted as a half-independent vassal, united with him by common interests. The day for Assyria to threaten Israel had not yet come. Syria lay in the path; and Assurdan III. had been succeeded by Assurnirari, who gave the world the unusual spectacle of a peaceful Assyrian king.

Jeroboam II., therefore, was free to enlarge his domains; and unless there be a little patriotic exaggeration in the extent and reality of his prowess, he exercised at least a nominal suzerainty over a realm nearly as extensive as that of David. He first advanced against Damascus, and so far "recovered" it as to make it acknowledge his rule.306306   It had owned the feudal supremacy of David (2 Sam. viii. 6), and Ahab had extorted the privilege of having bazaars there (1 Kings xx. 34). Considering how immense had been the resources of Damascus (2 Kings vi. 14), which had once been able to send to battle twelve thousand war-chariots (Eponym Canon, p. 108) under Benhadad, we see how fearfully the Syrian capital must have been weakened. His father Joash had won back all the Israelite cities which Benhadad III. had taken from Jehoahaz; and Jeroboam, if he did not absolutely reconquer the district east of Jordan, yet kept it in check and repressed the predatory incursions of the Emîrs of Moab and Ammon.307307   If Isa. xv. 1, 2, refers to this invasion of Jeroboam II., as Hitzig first conjectured, we infer that he had taken both Ar of Moab (Rabbath) and Kir of Moab, a strong fortress on a hill, by night assaults; and that he had also captured Dibon, Nebo, and Medeba, and inflicted on them summary chastisement. It appears that the Moabites had advanced northwards from the Arnon, while Hazael occupied Ramoth-Gilead, and had seized part of the tribe of Reuben. Jeroboam II. first expelled them, and then invaded their own proper country. Hitzig conjectures that Isa. xv., xvi., are really an old prophecy—perhaps by Jonah, son of Amittai—which Isaiah quotes, and to which he adds two verses (Isa. xvi. 12, 13). In such overthrow Moab must have learnt to be ashamed of Chemosh (Jer. xlviii. 13). He thus191 extended the border of Israel to the sea of the Arabah and "the brook of willows" which divides Edom from Moab.308308   Isa. xv. 7; Amos vi. 14. But this was not all. He pushed his conquests two hundred miles northwards of Samaria, and became lord of Hamath the Great. Ascending the gorge of the Litâny between the chains of Libanus and Antilibanus, which formed the northern limit of Israel, and following the river to its source near Baalbek, he then descended the Valley of the Orontes, which constitutes the "pass" or "entering in" of Hamath. Hamath was a town of the Hittites, the most powerful race of ancient Canaan. They were not of Semitic origin, but spoke a separate language. They were the last great branch of the once famous and dominant Khetas, whose former importance has only recently been revealed by their deciphered inscriptions. A century and a half earlier the Hamathites had thrown off the yoke of Solomon, and they governed nearly a hundred dependent cities. In alliance with the Phœnicians and Syrians, they had been valuable members of a league, which, though defeated, had long formed a barrier against the southward movement of the Assyrians. How striking was the conquest of this city by Jeroboam is shown by the title of "Hamath the Great," bestowed upon it by the contemporary prophets,309309   Amos vi. 2. with whom literary prophecy begins.


The result of these conquests was unwonted peace. Agriculture once more became possible, when the farmers of Israel were secure that their crops would not be reaped by plundering Bedouîn. Intercourse with neighbouring nations was revived, as in the golden days of Solomon, though it was regarded with suspicion.310310   Merchandise had hitherto been considered discreditable for a pure Jew, so that a trader is called a Canaanite (Hos. xii. 7, 8). Civilisation softened something of the old brutality. Prophecy assumed a different type, and literature began to dawn.

But to this state of things there was, as we learn from the contemporary prophets Amos and Hosea, a darker side. Of Jonah we know nothing more; for it is impossible to see in the Book of Jonah much more than a beautiful and edifying story, which may or may not rest on some surviving legends. It differs from every other prophetic book by beginning with the word "And," and its late origin and legendary character cannot any longer be reasonably disputed.311311   See the writer's Minor Prophets ("Men of the Bible" Series), pp. 231-243. We may hope, therefore, that the Northern prophet, whose home was not far from Nazareth, was not quite the morose and ruthless grumbler so strikingly portrayed in the book which bears his name. Of any historical intervention of his in the affairs of Jeroboam we know nothing further than the recorded promise of the king's prosperity.

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