« Prev Chapter XXXII. The Death of Josiah. Next »




b.c. 608

2 Kings xxiii. 29, 30

"Howl, O fir tree; for the cedar is fallen."—Zech. xi. 2.

Josiah survived by thirteen years the reformation and covenant which are the chief events of his reign. He lived in prosperity and peace. He did justice and judgment; the poor and needy flourished under his royal protection; and it was well with him. It seemed as if the Deuteronomic blessings on faithfulness to its law were about to be abundantly fulfilled, when "the azure calm of heaven" was suddenly shattered, and "down came the thunderbolt." The great and victorious Assurbanipal of Assyria had died, and left his power to weaker successors. Meanwhile, Egypt was growing in power and splendour under Pharaoh Necho II. (b.c. 612-596), the sixth king of the twenty-fifth or Saitic dynasty. He nearly anticipated M. de Lesseps in making the Suez Canal,727727   He was forced to desist by a fearful mortality among the labourers. and perhaps actually anticipated Vasco de Gama in rounding the Cabo Tormentoso, or Cape of Good Hope, in a three years' voyage. He was fired by the ambitious dream403 of succeeding the Assyrians as the chief power in the world, or at any rate of seizing part of the dominions which they had conquered.728728   Circ. b.c. 611-605. Herod., ii. 158, 159, iv. 42. Psamatik, the father of Necho, was perhaps a Lybian. He established his sway over all Egypt displacing the Assyrians. Accordingly, in b.c. 608, he went up against the King of Assyria to the river Euphrates. The Chronicler says that his destination was Carchemish, on the Euphrates, and some have conjectured that the vague phrase "against the King of Assyria" is incorrect, and that, as Josephus states, he was really marching against the Medes and Babylonians after the fall of Nineveh.729729   Antt., X. v. 1.

With this expedition Josiah was not greatly concerned. He may have begun his reign as the vassal of Assurbanipal; but if so, it is probable that he had long since ceased to pay tribute to a power which was tottering to its fall under the attacks of Scythians and Babylonians. He had availed himself of the disorganisation of the Assyrian power to re-establish some, at least, of the old authority of the House of David over the Northern Kingdom, and perhaps he only undertook the desperate expedient of withstanding the northward march of the Egyptian host under the notion that either on the march or on his return the Pharaoh intended to subjugate Palestine to Egypt.

Pharaoh Necho II., among his other achievements, had created a powerful fleet,730730   Herod., ii. 158. His father Psamatik had left him an adequate army of natives and mercenaries. and it is nearly certain that he did not advance along the coast of Palestine, but made his way by sea to Acco or Dor.731731   Herodotus says of his ships: Ἁι μὲν ἐπὶ τῇ βορηίῃ θαλάσσῃ ἐποιήθησαν. Here he received the news that Josiah meant to block his path404 at Megiddo, on the plain of Jezreel. That plain has been the great and only possible battle-field of Palestine, from the revolt in which Barak destroyed the host of Jabin,732732   Judg. iv. 23; 1 Sam. xxix. 1-11; 1 Kings xx. 26; 2 Kings xxiii. 29; 2 Chron. xxxv. 22; Rev. xvi. 16 (Armageddon). Herodotus confuses it with Migdol (Μάγδολον). to that in which Tryphon met Jonathan the Maccabee,733733   1 Macc. xii. 49; Jos., Antt., XIII. vi. 2. and Kleber in 1799 defeated twenty-five thousand Turks with three thousand French.

The Chronicler here adds a very remarkable incident.734734   2 Chron. xxxv. 20-22. Necho, like Joash of Israel in former days, did not care to fight with the poor little King of Judah—or at any rate did not wish to do so at present, when he was on his way to the greater encounter. He therefore sent an embassy to Josiah, saying, "What have I to do with thee, King of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war.735735   According to 1 Esdras i. 25-32, "for upon Euphrates is my war." For God [Elohim] commanded me [in a dream] to make haste.736736   Klostermann, in 2 Chron. xxxv. 21, reads bachalôm, "in a dream," instead of "to make haste." Forbear, then, from meddling with God, who is with me, that He destroy thee not."

The conjecture "in a dream" is not unlikely, nor is it in disaccord with other events in the annals of the Pharaohs and the Sargonidæ of Assyria.737737   Gen. xli. 1; Herod., ii. 188; Records of the Past, ix. 52. We may indeed be surprised that an Egyptian Pharaoh should profess to deliver to a Jewish king the messages of Elohim, though we have seen something like this in the case of the Rabshakeh.738738   2 Kings xviii. 25. The variation in 1 Esdras i. 26-28 is curious and interesting. We are there told405 that the message was sent to Josiah, not only by Pharaoh Necho, who had sent to say "The Lord is with me hastening me forward: depart from me, and be not against the Lord," but also by "the prophet Jeremy." Josephus frankly ascribes the error of Josiah to destiny, as though he had been infatuated by the dementation which the Greeks attributed to Atè.739739   Antt., X. v. 1: Τῆς πεπρωμένης οἶμαι εἰς τοῦτ' αὐτόν παρορμησάσης.

This, however, is not likely; for it is clear that Jeremiah, though not mentioned in the Book of Kings, must have had a strong influence over the mind of Josiah, whom he loved, whose views he shared, in whose religious revolution he had taken part. Further, we do not read of any warning recorded by the prophet himself; and had he uttered one, it would certainly have been mentioned, when he committed his prophecies to writing twenty-three years after their commencement. A warning of which the neglect had led to fatal issues would have been so decisive a confirmation of Jeremiah's prophetic insight that it could not have been passed over in silence.

Indeed, Jeremiah may have shared the conviction which, founded on imperfect generalisation, perhaps dazzled the unfortunate king to his ruin. Josiah had accepted the Book of Deuteronomy with the whole strength of his belief, and the Book of Deuteronomy had proclaimed to Israel as the reward of faithfulness this promise: "And it shall come to pass that Jehovah, thy God, shall set thee on high above all the nations of the earth.... Jehovah shall cause thine enemies which rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways."740740   Deut. xxviii. 1-8. In the strength of that406 promise, Josiah was perhaps saying to himself, in the language of the Psalms, that Jehovah could not fail to save His anointed, and dash His enemies to pieces under His feet;741741   Psalm xx. 6, xviii. 29-50. in the language, perhaps, of later days, that the sound of a shaken leaf should chase them, and they should flee when none pursued.742742   Lev. xxvi. 36.

Alas! such passages do not apply invariably to our worldly fortunes! God's promises are general. The individual must be considered apart from the universal in the region of spiritual and eternal blessings. In the affairs of earth the wicked often seem to be in prosperity, while the righteous are overwhelmed by all God's waves and storms. Further, Josiah evidently received a warning—a warning which professed to come, and really came, from God743743   2 Chron. xxxv. 22: "hearkened not to the words of Necho from the mouth of God."—whether uttered by Pharaoh or by Jeremiah. And in this instance Josiah had sought war; he had not been forced into it. It was not for him to go out of his way to champion the cause either of cruel Assyria or vaunting Babylon.

The result was entire disenchantment. No more disheartening and disastrous calamity could have happened to the kingdom, which had just begun to struggle out of the slough of idolatry and humiliation.

Heedless of the message he had received, strong in mistaken hopes, Josiah opposed his poor, weak forces to the powerful host of renovated Egypt. The result was instantaneous ruin.744744   "When he had seen him." Comp. 2 Kings xiv. 8. Judah was defeated and scattered without a blow,—Necho came, saw, conquered. Josiah, according to the present record of the Chronicles,407 like Ahab, "disguised himself"745745   1 Esdras i. 25; and LXX., "firmly resolved," "strengthened himself," as in 2 Chron. xxv. 11. and went into the battle; and as he drove from rank to rank an Egyptian archer drew a bow at a venture, and smote him while he was putting his forces in array. The arrow-point brought conviction too late. Josiah saw his error; he knew that his own death involved the rout of his army. He sounded a retreat, and said to his servants, "Bear me away to my travelling chariot, for I am sore wounded."746746   Jos., Antt., X. v. 1; and 2 Chron. xxxv. 23; 1 Esdras i. 30. He died at Megiddo, where his ancestor Ahaziah had died before him from the arrow-wounds of Jehu's pursuers. His servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo. The famous plain of Esdraelon had already witnessed two great victories—that of Barak over Sisera, and that of Gideon over the Midianites; and one deplorable defeat—that of Saul by the Philistines. It was now darkened by a catastrophe even more sad.747747   The fortunes of the Jews again prevailed in this plain in the days of Holofernes (Judith vii. 3); but they were defeated there by Placidus (Jos., B. J., IV. i. 8).

When that chariot, accompanied by its wailing escort, entered the gates of Jerusalem, with the routed army of Judah behind it, the feeling of the people must have resembled that of the Athenians when the news reached them that Lysander had destroyed their whole fleet at Ægospotami, and the long wail went thrilling up through that sleepless night from the Peiræus all along the Makra Teichè to the Parthenon and the Acropolis. And there followed such a mourning as the land had never known before. It had begun at Megiddo and Hadadrimmon, leaving the sad memory of its hopeless408 intensity. It was renewed at Jerusalem when they buried the king in his own sepulchre. "The land mourned, every family apart; the family of the House of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the House of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; the family of the House of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; all the families that remained, every family apart, and their wives apart."748748   Zech. xii. 11-13 (comp. Jer. xxii. 10, 18). No such place as Hadadrimmon is known, though there is a Rummâne not far from Megiddo. Jerome (Comm. in Zach.) identifies it with a place which he calls Maximianopolis. Wellhausen (Skizzen, 192) thinks that the mourning is compared to some wail over the god Hadadrimmon, like the wailing for Tammuz. Jonathan and Jarchi say that Hadadrimmon was the son of Tabrimmon, who opposed Ahab at Ramoth-Gilead. "And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations unto this day, and they were made an institution in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the Lamentations."749749   2 Chron. xxxv. 24, 25. Jeremiah's elegy has probably perished. It would have been most interesting had it been preserved. Lam. iv. is too vague to have been this lost poem. Not even for heroic David, or royal Solomon, or pious Asa, or prosperous Jehoshaphat had there been so loud a dirge.

But, alas! there was cause for far deeper sorrow than the loss of a prince, however able, however beloved. The dead was dead. Natural sorrow for the bereavement of the people would soon be healed by time, but behind the passing affliction lay a great fear and a great reaction.

A great fear,—for now a southern foe was added to the northern. Jeremiah and other prophets had warned Israel of the peril from the North. When the Scythian wave "rolled shoreward, struck and was dissipated,"409 when the source of Assyrian terror seemed to be drying up, worldlings may have felt inclined to laugh at Jeremiah. But now it was evident that, sooner or later, the Chaldæans would be as formidable as their predecessors, and out of the serpent's egg was breaking forth a cockatrice. The uncalled-for attempt of Josiah to bar the path of the new and mighty Pharaoh had also added Egypt to the list of formidable enemies. For the present the Pharaoh had passed on to the Euphrates; but whether he returned victorious or defeated, his troops could not but be a source of danger to the little kingdom, which would henceforth be helpless between the overwhelming forces of its foes.

If such were the fears of the timid and the pessimistic, still deeper was the disheartenment of the faithful. Josiah had been the most obedient, the most religious, of all the kings of Judah from childhood upwards. Where, then, were Jehovah's old loving-kindnesses which He sware unto David in His truth? Had God forgotten to be gracious? Had He hidden away His mercy in displeasure? Where were the blessings of the newly discovered Book of the Law, if the curse fell on its most earnest votary? Where was Huldah's promise that he should be gathered to his fathers in peace, if he was carried back dead from the field of fruitless battle? There can be little doubt that the apparent blight which had fallen on unavailing righteousness hastened the reaction of the subsequent reigns. Many might be inclined to cry out with even Jeremiah in his moments of overwhelming despondency, "Ah, Lord God! surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, 'Ye shall have peace'; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul."750750   Jer. iv. 10. "O Lord,410 Thou has deceived me, and I was deceived: Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am a derision daily, every one mocketh me. Whenever I speak, I must shout, I must cry violence and spoil; for the word of the Lord is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily."751751   Jer. xx. 7, 8.

But man judges partially and judges amiss. God's ways are not as man's ways. God sees the whole; He sees the future; He sees things as they are. Through defeat, through captivity, through multiform affliction, lay the path to the final deliverance of the nation from the grosser forms of idolatry. When they wept as they remembered Zion, when they took down their harps from the willows by the water-courses of Babylon to sing the Lord's song in a strange land, they turned again—and at last with their whole heart—to God their Saviour, who had done so great things for them;—until the grey secret lingering in the East was brightened by the Morning Star, and there was revealed to the world a True Israel, and a New Jerusalem, wherein the Lord should be King for evermore.

« Prev Chapter XXXII. The Death of Josiah. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection