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Commentary on KINGS (or 1 & 2 Kings)

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Book of Kings (Kings 1 & 2) Part 8.

The Reigns of Jeroboam King of Israel and Azariah (Uzziah) King of Judah (2.14.23-15.7).

The next fourteen verses very much bring out the method and aims of the prophetic author of the Book of Kings. They describe the magnificent reigns of two of the most successful and long lived kings of Israel and Judah, Jeroboam II of Israel and Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah, kings in whose reigns Israel enjoyed wealth, power and prestige which were surpassed only in the days of David and Solomon. And yet they are dealt with summarily in only fourteen verses. Indeed almost the only thing that he tells us about Azariah (Uzziah) is that he was skin-diseased. Had it not been for the prophets Hosea and Amos, and 2 Chronicles 26, we would have known little about their reigns. Why then was this? It was because, having depicted the follies of Solomon, the prophetic author laid no great store in power and glory. In his view Solomon had demonstrated the foolishness of such things. What he was interested in was the activity of YHWH in history, and the obedience or otherwise of YHWH’s people to His covenant, combining that with a recognition of the downward trend of both nations, a trend which was leading them to disaster in spite of YHWH’s continuing efforts to bring them back to Himself. As he looked back he was out to explain what it was that had brought the people of God to such a low ebb. (But he also knew that the last word had not been said, for had not Jehoiachin the son of David been restored to favour in Babylon? (25.27-30). Thus the house of David was not yet dead. His lamp was still burning).

The Reign Of Jeroboam II, King of Israel c. 782/81-753 BC. Co-regent from 793/2 BC (2.14.23-29).

Jeroboam II succeeded Jehoash of Israel at a time when Israel’s fortunes were rising. The might of the powerful kingdom of Aram, with its satellites, to the north had been broken by the incursions of the kings of Assyria, who had, however, having destroyed the power of Aram, then necessarily turned elsewhere in order to deal with other threats on their northern borders coming from the growing power of Urartu. Thus Israel, having initially paid light tribute to Assyria under Jehoash, was left free to prosper and expand with little interference. And this it accordingly did. Indeed Jeroboam’s might was such that he expanded the power and influence of Israel over the countries to the north as far as Lebo-Hamath, and to the south in Transjordan as far as the sea of Arabah (the Dead Sea?), while at the same time remaining on good terms with Judah. It was a period of expansionism. This meant that the trade routes (e.g. the King’s Highway in Transjordan, the routes through the valley of Jezreel, the Negeb trade routes, and the port of Elath/Ezion-geber) which were so often a great bone of contention between rival kings in the area, were now mainly under the control of Israel and Judah, resulting in a subsequent rise in prosperity for both. But sadly, as so often, prosperity did not lead to spiritual advancement, and thus in Israel especially, moral bankruptcy set in. The Laws of Moses, with their stern requirement of social justice, were being ignored, and the wealthy were making themselves even more wealthy by grinding down the righteous and the poor. Amos vividly summed it up in the words, “they have sold the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2.6). Thus to the prophetic author the reigns were not a success. Furthermore he could add from the spiritual angle, “you gave the Nazirites (those who were dedicated to YHWH) wine to drink, and commanded the prophets saying, ‘prophesy not’.” No wonder then that he glided over Israel’s ‘achievements’ at this time. It was because he recognised both their temporary nature and their resulting godlessness. In his view their attitudes were rather the result of their commitment to a form of syncretistic idolatry (especially so in the case of Israel, but also to a lesser extent in Judah) and the turning of their backs on YHWH’s covenant. Yet in spite of this he stressed that, despite their unbelief, YHWH had not as yet fully rejected them and had therefore come to their aid in spite of their lack of deserving. It was their last chance as a nation. If only they had responded, how different things might have been. But they did not respond and the opportunity was allowed to slip away.

Analysis.

  • a In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned for forty one years (2.14.23).
  • b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin (2.14.24).
  • c He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of YHWH, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher (2.14.25).
  • d For YHWH saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter, for there was none shut up nor left at large, neither was there any helper for Israel (2.14.26).
  • c And YHWH did not say that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash (2.14.27).
  • b Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he warred, and how he recovered Damascus, and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah, for Israel, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? (2.14.28).
  • a And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, even with the kings of Israel; and Zechariah his son reigned instead of him (2.14.29).

Note that in ‘a’ Jeroboam began to reign and in the parallel his reign ceased. In ‘b’ he did evil in the sight of YHWH and in the parallel his remaining acts can be found in the official annals of the kings of Israel. In ‘c’ he was successful in his conquests in accordance with the words of the prophet of YHWH and in the parallel YHWH used him as a saviour of Israel. Centrally in ‘d’ this was all because YHWH had seen the depths of their need.

2.14.23 ‘In the fifteenth year of Amaziah, the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam, the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and reigned for forty one years.’

Jeroboam II of Israel came to the throne in the fifteenth year of Amaziah, king of Judah, reigning in Samaria for forty one years. We must, however, differentiate between the two figures. For the fifteenth year of Amaziah was in fact when he became sole king, while the forty one years includes his co-regency with his father.

2.14.24 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin.’

But in truth Jeroboam was no better than his fathers, for as they had done he did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH by continuing the syncretistic cult of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. In other words he made no effort to put away the golden calves and return Israel to the true worship of YHWH. So Israel’s major problem was that their ‘Yahwism’ was heavily tainted with idolatrous ideas and customs, with the result that they had the wrong view of Him and took little regard to the covenant with YHWH. Compare Amos 5.21-24. Instead of coming into the blessing of YHWH they were rejecting it.

2.14.25 ‘He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of YHWH, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher.’

But outwardly Jeroboam’s reign was successful, and this was because YHWH was with him in spite of his undeserving, something evidenced by the fact that He sent His prophet Jonah, the son of Amittai, from Gath-hepher ( a town in Zebulun - Joshua 19.13) to prophesy his success. As a result YHWH’s word which was going forth from His mouth was being effective, and accomplishing what He pleased (Isaiah 55.10-13). That was why Jeroboam was able to expand the northern border of Israel to Lebo-Hamath (the entrance or going in of Hamath). Compare 1 Kings 8.65. The city of Lebo-Hamath, witnessed to in inscriptions, was probably modern Lebweh, north-north-east of Baalbek, at the watershed of the Beqa’ Valley, and on the road to Hamath. As a result he absorbed Aram and Damascus by making them his vassals (compare verse 28), and even parts of Hamath itself (see verse 28). And he expanded his southern border in Transjordan as far as the Sea of Arabah (yam ‘arabim), possibly the ‘brook of the willows’ in Isaiah 15.7 (nahal ha ‘arabim). If so it would have incorporated Moab and have given Israel complete control of the King’s Highway. Alternatively the Sea of Arabah could be the Dead Sea, which was in the Arabah.

This same Jonah would later be sent by YHWH to Nineveh, probably in the days of Ashur-dan III, when, as a result of a combination of his preaching and his unusual appearance caused by his incarceration for a time in the stomach of a large fish (which would have made him look decidedly unearthly), the consciences of the people were so stirred that they cried to God for mercy (see the Book of Jonah).

2.14.26 ‘For YHWH saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter, for there was none shut up nor left at large, neither was there any helper for Israel.’

YHWH provided Jeroboam with this success out of compassion, because He had seen the bitterness of the affliction of Israel, including the fact that things had got totally out of control and that they had no one to help them in their parlous situation. In mind here are the words of Deuteronomy 32.36, ‘YHWH will act as judge over His people, and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone, and there is none remaining, shut up or left at large (RSV ‘bond or free’).’

‘For there was none shut up nor left at large.’ Along with Deuteronomy 32.36 compare 9.18; 1 Kings 14.10; 21.21. In the latter cases the phrase appears to refer to those still under tutors, and those who had grown beyond the need for their control. It may therefore here signify that things had got so bad that all the normal controls had gone. But reference to Deuteronomy 32.36 may suggest that it means that it would be as though there was neither bond nor free because all would in the same parlous situation.

2.14.27 ‘And YHWH did not say that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.’

And this was because at this stage YHWH had not said that He would blot the name of Israel from under Heaven. Such a thought is taken from Deuteronomy 29.20 where YHWH threatened to blot out from under Heaven the name of the one who thought that he could walk in the stubbornness of his heart without any repercussions. Thus YHWH did not see them as having passed the point of no return which was why He had arranged for them a saviour in the person of Jeroboam the son of Joash. First the Assyrians had been their saviour (13.4-5), and then Jehoash (13.17-19, 23, 25) and now Jeroboam. It was YHWH’s last plea to His people.

2.14.28 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he warred, and how he recovered Damascus, and Hamath, which had belonged to Yaudi, for Israel, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’

For further details of Jeroboam’s activities and might we are referred to the chronicles of the kings of Israel, with a reminder that these included the ‘recovery’ of Damascus, and the recovery of ‘that part of Hamath which had belonged to Yaudi’. In other words it describes how he made them once again vassal states as they had been under David. Yaudi is mentioned in an Aramaic text from Sam‘al as being a state to the north west of Aram over which it had gained control, something possibly confirmed by the mention of an Azriau of Yaudi in an Assyrian inscription. (Some see ‘Azriau of Yaudi’ as referring to Azariah of Judah, but the names of the allies apparently mentioned in what remains of the annal do not favour that idea, and there are indications that the dating of the annal indicates a later time).

2.14.29 ‘And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, even with the kings of Israel; and Zechariah his son reigned instead of him.’

And Jeroboam died peacefully and slept with his fathers, ‘even with the kings of Israel’. Unusually there is no mention of where he was buried, which may help explain the phrase ‘even with the kings of Israel’ which in 13.14 indicated being buried in Samaria. This may have been because as YHWH’s saviour the author did not want to describe Jeroboam as ‘buried in Samaria’, which serve to suggest that he saw such a fate as being in total contrast to the privilege of being ‘buried in Jerusalem’. It indicated being buried in pagan ground.

The Reign Of Azariah (Uzziah) King of Judah c. 767-740/39 BC. Co-regent from 791/90 BC.

The reign of Azariah (Uzziah) can be paralleled with that of Jeroboam, with similar expansion and the same strictures to some extent applying. It introduced a period of prosperity unparalleled in Judah since the time of Solomon, and for similar reasons. As a result of keeping on friendly terms with each other and the exercise of military power both countries were able to expand and take advantage of the trade routes. But we learn nothing of this from the prophetic author (for a much fuller description see 2 Chronicles 26). Apart from the fact that Azariah followed the Yahwistic policies of his fathers all we learn about him from the prophetic author was that he became ‘skin-diseased’. This was the author’s way of expressing disfavour with his reign. That this was so is confirmed by the fact that we learn in Chronicles that the reason why Azariah was smitten was because he tried to arrogate to himself the priestly right to offer incense (2 Chronicles 26.16-21). But the author of Kings does not go into such details. He leaves us to discern his displeasure from the scant information that he gives us. As far as he was concerned religiously speaking Azariah was a failure. Indeed, Amos’s verdict on Judah at this stage was that they ‘have rejected the Law of YHWH and have not kept His statutes, and their lies have caused them to err after the way which their fathers walked’ (Amos 2.4).

We have, of course, learned in 14.22 that he took and rebuilt Elath, but that was deliberately mentioned then so that the author could present Azariah’s reign as he now has, as something of little or no value. The marked silence is deliberate.

There is in this a reminder to us that God judges us in the light of what we accomplish, or otherwise, for Him. All that we might think of as our accomplishments will in the future be seen as nothing. ‘Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.’ The description of Azariah’s reign in Kings is a vivid reminder of that fact.

Analysis.

  • a In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah to reign. Sixteen years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned two and fifty years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem (2.15.1-2).
  • b And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. However, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places (2.15.3-4).
  • c And YHWH smote the king, so that he was skin-diseased to the day of his death, and dwelt in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, judging the people of the land (2.15.5).
  • b Now the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (2.15.6).
  • a And Azariah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Jotham his son reigned instead of him (2.15.7).

Note that in ‘a’ he commenced his reign and in the parallel he ceased his reign. In ‘b’ he in general did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and in the parallel the remainder of his acts can be found in the official annals of the kings of Judah. Centrally in ‘c’ he was struck by YHWH with skin-disease and his son took over the main running of the kingdom. To the prophetic author this was the central and most important fact of his reign.

2.15.1 ‘In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah to reign.’

This dating refers to the date when Azariah (Uzziah) became sole king (767 BC). It was in the twenty seventh year of Jeroboam. But he had been reigning with his father as co-regent almost as long as Jeroboam (since 791 BC). Elsewhere Azariah’s name is given as Uzziah, which is in fact a recognised variant (compare how Azare-el becomes Uzzi-el in 1 Chronicles 25.4, 18). The usages may be listed as follows: Azariah (15.1, 6, 8, 17, 23, 27; 1 Chronicles 3.12). Uzziah (15.13, 30, 32, 34; 2 Chronicles 26.1, 3, 11, 14, etc; Isaiah 1.1; 6.1; Hosea 1.1; Amos 1.1; Zechariah 14.5).

2.15.2 ‘Sixteen years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned two and fifty years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem.’

The ‘sixteen years old’ refers to when he became co-regent, and the fifty two years refers to his reign including that co-regency. The new queen mother was named Jecoliah and was born in Jerusalem

2.15.3-4 ‘And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. However, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.’

Like his father, and indeed most of his fathers, he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH. In other words he continued in the true worship of YHWH and honoured the covenant. But in a similar way to them he failed to carry out the reforms that would have resulted in the cessation of the many high places at which the people still sacrificed and burned incense, aping Canaanite ritual and Canaanite ways. In other words he failed to demand a full and wholehearted response to YHWH’s demands and covenant by the whole people.

2.15.5 ‘And YHWH smote the king, so that he was skin-diseased to the day of his death, and dwelt in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, judging the people of the land.’

His reign is summed up in terms of his wrong attitude towards YHWH, as is evidenced by the fact that YHWH smote him with skin disease. As with Naaman this was not true leprosy (Naaman had been able to continue serving the king and even to be present in the house of Rimmon), and it only happened in the latter years of his reign. He was not totally excluded from society. But it was sufficient to exclude him from entering the Temple of YHWH, and from taking his part in the worship there, and thus from fulfilling all his functions as the king. It also resulted in his living apart from the palace in his own separate house, because his presence in the palace, which was connected with the Temple, would have rendered the palace ritually ‘unclean’ and have tainted the Temple. (Compare how the skin-diseased had to live outside the camp in Leviticus 13.46). And his son Jotham took over the king’s household (in other words the court and its authority) and the general rulership of the ‘people of the land’. At Ugarit where we have evidence of a language similar to Hebrew recorded around 13th century BC the words for ‘judging’ and ‘ruling’ were used synonymously. Thus Jotham was co-regent par excellence. Note the interesting distinction, although not to be overpressed, between the king’s household and the ‘people of the land’.

2.15.6 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’

For the remainder of the acts of Azariah and all that he did (which was considerable) we are as so often referred to the official annals of the kings of Judah. It was of interest politically but not religiously. It is interesting that he does not refer to ‘his might’ as he has with previous kings and with Jeroboam, although the significance of that is lessened by the fact that apart from in the case of Hezekiah the phase is in future quietly dropped.

2.15.7 ‘And Azariah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Jotham his son reigned instead of him.’

Like his fathers Azariah was buried in the City of David as a recognised Davidide (although not specifically in the tomb of the kings) and Jotham his son reigned instead of him.

The Reign Of Zechariah King of Israel c.753-752 BC.

By the time of Zechariah the prophets Amos and Hosea were in full flow denouncing the sins of Israel, and to some extent those of Judah. From this point on Israel would sink lower and lower until its existence as a nation would itself be terminated. The reign of Zechariah was to be brief and would bring to an end the dynasty of Jehu, and from now on Israel would have a motley variety of kings only one of whom would die naturally. The reign of Jeroboam had offered them their last chance.

Analysis.

  • a In the thirty eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria for six months (2.15.8).
  • b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, as his fathers had done. He departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin (2.15.9).
  • c And Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him, and smote him publicly (before people), and slew him, and reigned instead of him (2.15.10).
  • b Now the rest of the acts of Zechariah, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel (2.15.11).
  • a This was the word of YHWH which he spoke to Jehu, saying, “Your sons to the fourth generation will sit upon the throne of Israel. And so it came about (2.15.12).

Note that in ‘a’ Zechariah reigned, and in the parallel it was seen as fulfilling YHWH’s word that Jehu’s sons to the fourth generation would sit on the throne. In ‘b’ his behaviour is described and in the parallel we are referred to the official annals of the kings of Israel for his other acts. Central in ‘c’ is that fact that he was removed in a coup and assassinated by Shallum the son of Jabesh, who reigned instead of him.

2.15.8 ‘In the thirty eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria for six months.’

The dating for Azariah is calculated from when he became co-regent. Zechariah, son of Jeroboam, son of Jehu, became king and reigned for a mere six months.

2.15.9 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, as his fathers had done. He departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin.’

He continued the policy of his fathers in allowing the syncretistic cult of Jeroboam to continue, the cult that had resulted in the watering down of Yahwism as described in Amos and Hosea, and therefore the lax morals of the people.

2.15.10 ‘And Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him, and smote him publicly (‘before people’), and slew him, and reigned instead of him.’

It is clear that Shallum and his fellow conspirators must have been awaiting the death of Jeroboam before striking, Zechariah possibly having revealed his inadequacy and stirred up antagonism in a period of co-regency, or if not co-regency in some kind of authoritative position. Or it may well be that, as in the days of Solomon, the extensive building projects of Jeroboam at for example Tirzah and Megiddo, which involved much conscription and slave labour, and the expansionist wars taking them away from their land and their homes, had disillusioned the people. Only the rich had grown richer. The poor had grown poorer. That Shallum’s was a local conspiracy comes out in what follows. Even though carried out in public it did not have the support of the people as a whole outside of Samaria. Thus while Shallum slew him and reigned instead of him it would only be for a month.

2.15.11 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Zechariah, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.’

The remainder of the acts of Zechariah could be discovered from the official annals of the kings of Israel. They would clearly not be many.

2.15.12 ‘This was the word of YHWH which he spoke to Jehu, saying, “Your sons to the fourth generation will sit upon the throne of Israel. And so it came about.’

But the important thing about the reign of Zechariah in the prophetic author’s eyes was that if brought about the fulfilment of YHWH’s word that Jehu’s sons would sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation. At this point YHWH’s purpose had been fulfilled, and Jehu’s house therefore lost its God-given immunity. It would have required repentance and a seeking after YHWH for Zechariah to survive. The clear inference here is of YHWH’s continual watch over the kings of Israel. History was under His control.

The Reign Of Shallum King of Israel c.752 BC (2.15.13-17).

It would appear that Tiphsach was Shallum’s power base. Thus when Shallum took the throne after assassinating Zechariah without popular support, not only was he killed by Menahem in his turn but Tiphsach, which refused to yield and surrender to Menahem, was put to the sword, and every man, woman and child killed. Menhem is thus revealed as a man without mercy. The reference to the resistance of Tiphsach may suggest that that was where Shallum’s sons had holed up. But the fact that Menahem received the kingship suggests either that he was acting with the support of the people of the land, or that he was a powerful military commander with great influence in the army, or indeed both. Shallum clearly had little support. He was simply an opportunist. Apart from this we know nothing of either man.

Analysis.

  • a Shallum the son of Jabesh began to reign in the thirty ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah, and he reigned the space of a month (a month of days) in Samaria (2.15.13).
  • b And Menahem the son of Gadi went up from Tirzah, and came to Samaria, and smote Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria, and slew him, and reigned instead of him (2.15.14).
  • c Now the rest of the acts of Shallum, and his conspiracy which he made, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel (2.15.15).
  • b Then Menahem smote Tiphsach, and all who were in it, and its borders, from Tirzah (2.15.16a).
  • a Because they did not open to him, therefore he smote it, and all the women in it who were with child he ripped up (2.15.16b.

From the construction of the passage and the fact that it comes outside the formulae which open and close Menahem’s reign, it is apparent that the smiting of Tiphsach presumably had something to do with Shallum. We may therefore probably see Tiphsach as Shallum’s power base, which would help to explain (but not excuse) Menahem’s unusual ferocity. In destroying the pregnant women he was seeking to ensure that no trace of Shallum’s family survived.

Note that in ‘a’ Shallum began his precarious reign which lasted a month, and in the parallel all trace of his seed was destroyed. In ‘b’ Menaham smote Shallum and in the parallel he smote Tiphsach. Centrally in ‘c’ we can discover all the details of his conspiracy in the official annals of the kings of Israel.

2.15.13 ‘Shallum the son of Jabesh began to reign in the thirty ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah, and he reigned the space of a month (a month of days) in Samaria.’

Shallum began to reign in the thirty ninth year of Uzziah (Azariah) calculated from when Uzziah became co-regent with his father. He reigned for a full month (a month of days), presumably while Menahem was organising his forces.

2.15.14 ‘And Menahem the son of Gadi went up from Tirzah, and came to Samaria, and smote Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria, and slew him, and reigned instead of him.’

Menahem was stationed in Tirzah, the former capital city of Israel, which may well therefore have been where the ‘old guard’, the pre-Omride aristocracy, lived. Overlooked by the house of Omri and the house of Jehu they may well have been waiting their time, as the old traditions passed down from father to son, and they resented the passing of power to Samaria. Gadi means ‘my luck’ and may be short for ‘Gadi-yahu’.

2.15.15 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Shallum, and his conspiracy which he made, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.’

Any further information about the acts of Shallum (one month did not give him much time to make his mark) and especially the details of his conspiracy could be found in the official annals of the kings of Israel.

2.15.16 ‘Then Menahem smote Tiphsach, and all who were in it, and its borders, from Tirzah. Because they did not open to him, therefore he smote it, and all the women in it who were with child he ripped up.’

Having smitten Shallum Menahem, operating from Tirzah, then smote Tiphsach. This was almost certainly the city where Shallum had his power base and where his sons and family took refuge after Shallum’s assassination. The city was called on to surrender, and once it refused to do so its doom was sealed. By its refusal it was seen as part of the conspiracy. The reference to the fact that all the pregnant women were slaughtered was probably so as to ensure that no rumour could arise of a child of Shallum who had survived the massacre. Shallum’s family, and its connections, would not have been well known and Menahem may well have felt that as the city had supported Shallum’s conspiracy the only safe way to ensure the destruction of his house was by slaughtering every man, woman and child. It was, however, a barbarous act, and went beyond the normally accepted bounds in Israel. It was a sign of his unsuitability to be king.

Nothing is known about Tiphsach, unless it was Thapsacus (‘fording place’) on the west bank of the river Euphrates (1 Kings 4.24). Under Jeroboam II Israel’s influence had probably again reached that far, and Shallum may well have come from there. Menahem may thus have seen it as a ‘foreign’ city and treated it as such, his invasion of it being in order to destroy Shallum’s sons. But ripping up women was an Aramaean practise (8.12). Compare also Amos 1.13 referring to the half-savage Ammonites and Hosea 13.8 referring to the Assyrians. But it was totally against the law of YHWH.

The Reign Of Menahem King Of Israel c. 752-742/41 BC (2.15.17-22).

The author has nothing good to say about the reign of Menahem, but it was crucially important for one reason. Up to this time Assyria had either been kept at bay, when Aram and Israel had both been strong, or had been open to receiving token tribute on its forays into the territories of Aram, Tyre, Israel and Philistia. It had made no attempt to ‘settle’. But from this time on Assyria would seek to dominate the territory and would demand much greater tribute, crushing any state which refused to submit, and eventually turning parts of it into Assyrian provinces when they proved too recalcitrant. It acted right up to the Egyptian border. In time those who submitted would be required to have an Assyrian official at court to oversee the interests of Assyria, and to act as an observer of the behaviour and attitudes of their kings and courtiers. Thus now Assyria had come to stay and establish an empire.

The invasion by Tiglath-pileser III (Pulu) took place late in Menahem’s reign. Menahem, having failed to return Israel to the true worship of YHWH (thus failing to ensure that he would enjoy His protection) was therefore wise to submit to Assyria and by that receive Assyria’s approval of his kingship. Once he had done that he came under Assyria’s ‘protection’. The alternative would have been destruction, as had happened to the northern states around Hamath. But many in Israel, not aware of the international situation, would not have been happy at the thought of paying taxes to Assyria. After all, Israel had never had to do so before. (Previous light tribute assessed on, for example, Jehu and Jehoash, and mentioned in inscriptions, would have come out of the royal treasury). Thus the paying of tribute to Assyria became a bone of contention in Israel, and an influential anti-Assyria party grew up. They had no real conception of the size, power and efficiency of the armies of Assyria.

2.15.17 ‘In the thirty ninth year of Azariah king of Judah Menahem the son of Gadi began to reign over Israel, and reigned ten years in Samaria.’

Menahem’s reign is as usual dated in terms of the kings of Judah. He began to reign in the thirty ninth year of Azariah (note the reference to him as Uzziah in verse 13). This was again dated from the beginning of Azariah’s co-regency with his father. Menahem reigned for ten years.

2.15.18 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. All his days he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin.’

Menahem made no effort to change the current attitude towards religion in Israel, allowing the false cult set up by Jeroboam to continue. In view of what we know of his savagery this does not surprise us. Thus he ‘did evil in the sight of YHWH’ and did so for ‘all his days’. There was no true turning back to YHWH.

2.15.19 ‘There came against the land Pul the king of Assyria, and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand.’

The result was that when Pul (Pulu = Tiglath Pileser III) invaded the territory late in Menahem’s reign Menahem paid tribute rather than resist. (It was understandable. Unless they succeeded in driving back the Assyrians, which was very unlikely without YHWH’s interference which they had forfeited by their religious attitudes, resistance would have resulted in widespread devastation and an increase in the tribute required). By this means he obtained the king of Assyria’s sanction to remain as king without undue interference. The tribute amounted to a thousand talents of silver, which was too much to be borne by the king’s treasury. It represented three million shekels, or thirty four thousand kilogrammes, or thirty seven tons of silver. This payment of tribute by Menahem is recorded in the Assyrian annals (Menahem is described as me-ni-hi-imme sa-me-ri-na-a). The name Pulu was the name which Tiglath Pileser III took when he ascended the throne of Babylon. It is testified to in Babylonian inscriptions.

2.15.20 ‘And Menahem exacted the money from Israel, even from all the great men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and did not stay there in the land.’

Menahem obtained the tribute by taxing sixty thousand ‘great men of wealth’, an indication of Israel’s continuing prosperity. Each contributed fifty shekels. For most it was not a huge amount. Fifty shekels was at this time the price of a slave in Assyria. But it would cause a great deal of dissatisfaction and be a blow to national pride. They had never been so used before. The result was that the king of Assyria ‘turned back’ from invading the land, rather than occupying it. Menahem’s action was politically wise, but not acceptable to many independently minded Israelites (even though it saved them from total devastation).

2.15.21 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Menahem, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’

The remainder of what Menahem did could be found in the official annals of the kings of Israel.

2.15.22 ‘And Menahem slept with his fathers, and Pekahiah his son reigned instead of him.’

Menahem died peacefully, and ‘slept with his fathers’ (which means no more than that he died). We are given no details of his burial. He was replaced by Pekahiah his son who would be acceptable to Assyria, conditional on him paying any tribute required. The take over appears to have taken place peacefully, at least initially.

The Reign Of Pekahiah King of Israel c. 742/41-740/39 BC (2.15.23-26).

Pekahiah (‘YHWH is open eyed’) succeeded his father, but it was as king of a country seething with discontent at having had to pay tribute to Assyria. Few in Israel actually really knew what they were now dealing with. To most the kings of Assyria were simply booty seeking kings who came and went (as they had done in the past), similar, for example, to the kings of Aram. The vision of a powerful country which exceeded the strength of all the surrounding nations put together and was building a great empire was outside their conception. Thus when Pekahiah came to the throne, and had presumably indicated that he would continue his father’s policy of submission to Assyria, it was inevitable that there would be a reaction. And that reaction took the form of his deputy who had been ruling on Menahem’s behalf in Gilead (or had set up a rival kingship in Gilead). He also was named Pekahiah, and therefore Pekah for short, (or took the name on becoming king), and he was himself anti-appeasement. He assassinated Pekahiah in Samaria, and took over the throne, presumably with the consent of most of Israel who favoured the anti-appeasement policy. They would learn their lesson too late.

Analysis.

  • In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah Pekahiah the son of Menahem began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned two years. And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin (2.15.23-24).
  • And Pekah the son of Remaliah, his deputy, conspired against him, and smote him in Samaria, in the castle of the king’s house, with Argob and Arieh, and with him were fifty men of the Gileadites, and he slew him, and reigned instead of him (2.15.25).
  • Now the rest of the acts of Pekahiah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel (2.15.26).

Note that in ‘a’ we have Pekahiah’s behaviour depicted and in the parallel are referred to the official annals for further information concerning his acts. Centrally in ‘b’ we have described the revolution against him.

2.15.23 ‘In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah Pekahiah the son of Menahem began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned two years.’

Pekahiah came to the throne about two years before Uzziah’s death. Once again Uzziah’s reign is calculated from when he became co-regent. The name Pekahiah (pkhy) appears on a Palestinian seal, and on a jar from Hazor. It means ‘YHWH is open-eyed’. He reigned for just over a year (two part years).

2.15.24 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin.’

In his short reign he made no attempt to return Israel to true Yahwism. He was content with the bastardised religion that Jeroboam I had introduced, a religion which resulted in many of the causes for dissatisfaction in Israel’s life-style..

2.15.25 ‘And Pekah the son of Remaliah, his deputy, conspired against him, and smote him in Samaria, in the castle of the king’s house, with Argob and Arieh, and with him were fifty men of the Gileadites, and he slew him, and reigned instead of him.

Pekah, the son of Remaliah, was apparently a Gileadite from Transjordan, and he was clearly supported by a large majority of the people. This suggests that the reason for the revolt was Pekahiah’s attitude of appeasement and his loyalty towards Assyria, a policy that Israel would have done well to continue. Pekah was Pekahiah’s deputy ruler in Transjordan, and the fact that he arrived with a mere fifty men indicated that he expected the support of the whole of the people who had probably appealed to him to act. That he required so many was because he had to overcome those of the king’s bodyguard who were on duty. It was an organised rebellion. Argob and Arieh were probably two main supporters of Pekahiah’s policy of appeasement, or possibly even representatives of the king of Assyria. Argob may well have been named after the city of Argob in Transjordan, and his name could mean ‘eagle’, Arieh means ‘lion’. The attack was probably timed so that they would be found there with the king. The castle of the king’s house would be the well protected royal quarters.

2.15.26 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Pekahiah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.’

The rest of the acts of Pekahiah could be found in the official royal annals. No indication is given of what happened to his body, which may suggest that it had been treated with contempt. Feelings were running high.

The Reign Of Pekah King Of Israel c. 739-732/31 BC (2.15.27-31).

The appeasement party having been defeated, and their king overthrown, Israel became mainly anti-appeasment, and as such would unite with others in order to be ready to oppose Assyria. One of the main parties in the conspiracy along with Pekah was Rezin king of Aram. Other interested parties included Philistia and Edom, and they had (false) hopes of assistance from Egypt. How were they to know that Egypt, which had always appeared to them a mighty power, were too weak at the time to be able to do anything against a power like Assyria? Assyria contemptuously called Egypt, ‘that broken reed of a staff which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it’ (18.21), and they were mainly right. They were strong enough to be able to protect themselves, but not to be able to help others.

Meanwhile there was a breathing space, presumably because Tiglath-pileser was busy elsewhere containing Urartu and Babylon, both of which he would later destroy. So one of the things that Pekah did, along with Rezin king of Aram who was ruling from Damascus, was try to persuade Judah to join the conspiracy (see Isaiah 7). When Jotham and then Ahaz refused, Pekah and Rezin invaded Israel (16.5), with the assistance of Philistia from the west and Edom from the south (16.6). Judah consequently appeared to be in desperate straits, but rather than yield, and against the advice of Isaiah, Ahaz appealed to Assyria (probably unnecessarily as Tiglath-pileser had probably already set out with a view to dealing with the conspiracy). Certainly the action of the invaders, while devastating parts of Judah, did suddenly cease, and that could only be because they were called on to face the might of Assyria. As a result Israel would only survive in part, (with a huge chunk of Israel becoming a province of Assyria), and that due to the assassination of Pekah and his replacement with Hoshea who immediately submitted to Assyria, while this was followed by Rezin and Damascus being destroyed and Aram became a province of Assyria ruled over by an Assyrian governor. However, as YHWH was not directly involved, the prophetic author of Kings covers the whole action in a few verses.

Analysis.

  • a In the fifty second year of Azariah king of Judah Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years. And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin (2.15.27-28).
  • b In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maacah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali (2.15.29a).
  • c And he carried them captive to Assyria (2.15.29b).
  • b And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned instead of him, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah (2.15.29).
  • a Now the rest of the acts of Pekah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel (2.15.30).

Note that in ‘a’ we have the introduction to Pekah’s reign and a description of his behaviour, and in the parallel we are referred for the remainder of his acts to the official annals of the kings of Israel. In ‘b’ we have described the invasion of Tiglath-pileser, and in the parallel Pekah’s assassination by Hoshea. Centrally in ‘c’ we have described the exiling of large numbers of Israelites to Assyria.

2.15.27 ‘In the fifty second year of Azariah king of Judah Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned twenty years.’

Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria towards the end of Uzziah’s life, and he reigned for twenty years, but the twenty years included the period when he was deputy ruler to Menahem and Pekahiah in Gilead. As sole ruler he ruled for about seven years. He may well have taken over Pekahiah’s name, either in order to deceive parts of Israel into thinking that there had been no change in ruler, or in order to confuse the king of Assyria.

Alternatively Pekah the son of Remaliah might have set up a separate state in Gilead in rebellion against Menahem and Pekahiah with his reign being counted from the day of the setting up of that state.

2.15.28 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin.’

However, he continued to encourage the cult of Jeroboam, which Jeroboam had introduced into Israel, so that the covenant of YHWH was largely ignored and people behaved in a similar way to their neighbours in a selfish, callous and violent world, a subject constantly taken up by Hosea, Amos, Micah and Isaiah.

2.15.29a ‘In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maacah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali.’

Pekah’s reward for his attitude towards Assyria was to see Israel’s armies driven back by the Assyrians with great slaughter and with city after city taken by the Assyrians in north Israel These cities in the land of Naphtali would never again be part of Israel but would be incorporated into Assyrian provinces. Naphtali would cease to exist.

Compare here 1 Kings 15.20 where Ijon, Dan and Abel-beth-maacah were border cities taken by the king of Aram in response to Asa’s plea for their assistance against Israel. Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor would be a line of border fortress cities, Hazor being well known from Joshua 11.1-15. For Hazor and Kedesh see Joshua 19.36-37. Janoah is Yanuh, north east of Acco. Gilead (Gal’za) and Galilee represented the larger districts around Naphtali. Galilee, and probably Gilead, were incorporated into the Assyrian province of Megiddo. The archaeological digs at Hazor have confirmed that it was destroyed by fire around this time, and a potsherd was discovered in the ruins containing Pekah’s name. All that was now left to Israel west of Jordan was the hill country of Ephraim around Samaria.

2.15.29b ‘And he carried them captive to Assyria.’

Furthermore the Assyrians carried out their policy of transporting in chains, in the cruellest possible way, the cream of the inhabitants of northern Israel to Assyria and other areas (compare Isaiah 11.11, which, however, included other movements and transportations), replacing them with transportees from other such areas. The aim was to destroy nationalistic tendencies and divide up the opposition. The Nimrud tablet reads, ‘Israel (bit Humria) ---the total of its inhabitants I led off to Assyria. Peqaha (Pekah) their king they deposed, and I set Ausi (Hoshea) over them. I received from them as their tribute ten talents of gold and --- talents of silver and brought them to Assyria.’ This was a huge sum for a reduced and impoverished Israel to find. It was the price of rebellion.

2.15.30 ‘And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned instead of him, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah.’

With Israel in process of being systematically destroyed by Assyria Hoshea the son of Elah took part in a conspiracy and assassinated Pekah, taking his throne and immediately seeking peace terms from Assyria. As we saw above Assyria claimed that it was on their initiative, but that was probably typical misrepresentation. This took place in the twentieth year of Jotham of Judah. The period was calculated from when Jotham became co-regent as a result of Uzziah’s illness in c. 750 BC, and is probably to be seen as a generalisation (he reigned from c. 750-731 BC). The Israel over which Hoshea ruled was a greatly reduced Israel.

2.15.31 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Pekah, and all that he did, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.’

The remaining acts of Pekah could be found in the official annals of the kings of Israel.

The Reign Of Jotham King Of Judah c. 740/39-732/1 BC. Co-regency Began c. 750 BC (2.15.32-38).

Prior to much of the above activity Jotham came to the throne of Judah, first as co-regent with his father Uzziah, and then as sole ruler. At his accession all was still quiet and peace reigned. Judah’s prosperity continued for a time. But towards the end of his reign the threat of Assyria began to loom on the horizon. Judah, however, in their mountain fastness, had never really been bothered by Assyria, except possibly on their western borders as Assyria dealt with the cities of the Philistines, and when he was probably pressed to join with Israel and Aram in an alliance against Assyria he refused. He saw no point in what he saw as unnecessary interference, and did not want to get involved.

Jotham was in fact an effective king (see 2 Chronicles 27.1-9), however, the sole achievement mentioned by the prophetic author connected with his reign is that of repairing one of the Temple gateways, which demonstrated his concern for YHWH. To the author only what we do for God counts for anything.

But towards the end of his reign his peace was shattered when Israel and Aram began to make preparations to attack Judah. This may have been simply because Judah, having refused to enter into an alliance were seen as an enemy, but the fact that it was also with the purpose of replacing the king of Judah with an already chosen Aramaean puppet king (Isaiah 7.6), suggests that a large part of the aim was to bring Judah within their alliance. Judah could not be left to do their own thing. It was either with them or against them. Note that they are depicted as sent by YHWH. It was a reminder that He was not satisfied with the state of things in Judah. In some ways fortunately for Jotham he died before things came to a head.

Analysis.

  • a In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel Jotham the son of Uzziah king of Judah began to reign (2.15.32).
  • b He was twenty five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Jerusha the daughter of Zadok (2.15.33).
  • c And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. However, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and burned incense in the high places (2.15.34-35a).
  • d He built the upper gate of the house of YHWH (2.15.35b).
  • c Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (2.15.36).
  • b In those days YHWH began to send against Judah Rezin the king of Aram, and Pekah the son of Remaliah (2.15.37).
  • a And Jotham slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Ahaz his son reigned instead of him (2.15.38).

Note that in ‘a’ Jotham began to reign, and in the parallel he ceased reigning. In ‘b’ he reigned for sixteen years and in the parallel it was in those days that YHWH sent Rezin and Pekah against Judah. In ‘c’ His general behaviour is described and in the parallel we are reminded that we can find details of more of his acts in the official annals of the kings of Judah. Centrally in ‘d’ he demonstrated his concern for YHWH by carrying out repairs on the Temple.

2.15.32 ‘In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel Jotham the son of Uzziah king of Judah began to reign.’

This would be the second year of Pekah’s reign over all Israel. That was when Jotham began his sole rule in Judah, on the death of Uzziah. In some ways it was a momentous year for Judah because during it Isaiah began his long ministry (Isaiah 1.1; 6.1).

2.15.33 He was twenty five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Jerusha the daughter of Zadok.’

Jotham (YHWH is perfect) was twenty five years old when he began to reign, although he had already been acting as co-regent along with his father for ten years. His reign lasted for sixteen years. The fact that he ruled ‘in Jerusalem’ was an indication that he was a son of David ruling under YHWH’s favour. The name of the new queen mother was Jerusha, who was the daughter of Zadok. The fact that her place of origin is not mentioned suggests that Zadok was well enough known for it to be considered unnecessary, possibly because he was descended from Zadok the high priest and part of the Zadokite clan in Jerusalem.

2.15.34 ‘And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done.’

He continued in the ways of his father by doing what was right in the eyes of YHWH, supporting the cult and maintaining its purity, and encouraging Judah to worship in accordance with the law of Moses. But, as Isaiah would bring out, that worship was on the whole too formalistic and not sufficiently from the heart, with the result that it did not result in righteous living (Isaiah 1.11-18). It was therefore necessary for them to recognise their uncleanness and come to Him for cleansing and mercy (Isaiah 6.5).

2.15.35a ‘However, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and burned incense in the high places.’

And that was the trouble. The worship of so many was either formal or perverted. They still to some extent saw YHWH in terms of the nature gods which had always been worshipped in the high places in the land. And the king did little to remove these high places and bring the people back to true Yahwism. The worship of YHWH was being diluted.

2.15.35b ‘He built the upper gate of the house of YHWH.’

But one thing that he did do which demonstrated his love towards YHWH and that was to rebuild the upper gate of the house of YHWH. he had a concern for the integrity of the house of YHWH.

2.15.36 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’

For further of his acts we are referred to the official annals of the kings of Judah.

2.15.37 ‘In those days YHWH began to send against Judah Rezin the king of Aram, and Pekah the son of Remaliah.’

Apart from the building work carried out on the Temple the most notable feature of his reign from the author’s point of view was that YHWH demonstrated His discontent with the spiritual condition of Judah by sending against them Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, the king of Israel. As we have already seen this was because they wanted to pressurise Judah into joining an alliance against the king of Assyria by establishing a puppet king over them, but the author recognised in it the hand of YHWH. It was a sign that He did not see all as right with Judah. Jotham died before their action began in earnest (‘they began to --’). It was his son Ahaz therefore who would bear the full brunt of the attack.

Rezin the king of Aram is mentioned in the Assyrian annals as Ra-hi-ia-nu in a list in which Menahem of Israel was also mentioned. Rezin may well have been a throne name, compare the variant Rezon in 1 Kings 11.23-25.

2.15.38 ‘And Jotham slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Ahaz his son reigned instead of him.’

Jotham died peacefully in his bed, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David as a true Davidide. And his son Ahaz ascended the throne.

The Reign Of Ahaz King Of Judah c. 732/1-716/15 BC. Co-regent from 744/43 BC.

Ahaz came to the throne of Judah as sole ruler at a crucial time in Judah’s history. Never before in that history had they faced the challenge of becoming permanently subservient to a large Empire whose requirements would include the placing of their gods in the Temple of YHWH. But as Ahaz faced up to the invasion of Judah by Israel and Aram, who were seeking to depose him and set up a puppet king, probably because of Jotham and Ahaz’s refusal to join in an alliance with them against Assyria, he found himself in a great quandary. As the son of David should he look to YHWH alone for protection, and trust Him for deliverance, or should he bastardise that sonship and submit to the king of Assyria as his ‘father’, and call on his assistance, with the inevitable result that he would become his vassal, along with all the consequences that would follow from that?

Isaiah the prophet assured him that he should look to YHWH alone, and so huge and difficult did YHWH see the decision to be that He offered to do for Ahaz, as the scion of the house of David, literally anything at all that he requested as a sign that He, YHWH, was totally reliable, was quite able to deliver him from all his enemies, and would prove Himself worthy of his trust (Isaiah 7.11). YHWH wanted him to remain totally independent, and promised deliverance on that basis. But Ahaz did not feel that YHWH was trustworthy, and the result was that instead of maintaining the honour of the house of David by holding to the Davidic covenant and to YHWH as his Father and Overlord he submitted to the king of Assyria as his father and overlord. It was the low point in Judah’s history. YHWH had finally been rejected as King over His people, and as Father to the sons of David. But equally as momentous as the initial option was the consequence, for YHWH informed Ahaz that because of the choice that he had made the coming promised future king would not be descended from Ahaz, whose house had been rejected. Rather He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7.14). And Ahaz was to see that as a sign, not of YHWH’s continued favour, but of the fact that he was now totally rejected. The offer was no longer open.

The somewhat inevitable further result of Ahaz’s decision to reject YHWH to His face was that he reacted to it by sinking into spiritual degradation. In the desperation and spiritual bankruptcy that resulted from his decision he threw himself into the lowest forms of Canaanite worship, by indulging in child sacrifice, and entering fully into the debased worship of the worst of the high places. Having despised YHWH and been rejected by Him he had totally lost his way spiritually. It was not therefore surprising that he also yielded the Temple to the gods of Assyria. By becoming a vassal of the king of Assyria (and of the gods of Assyria) he had to some extent made that inevitable, but as the author reveals he went far beyond what was required, and thrust YHWH right into the background in His own Temple, replacing the Temple paraphernalia with some patterned on a model which had impressed him in Damascus (probably one brought from Assyria, accompanying the king of Assyria) and turned the true altar of YHWH into a private source of divination.

In his own way the prophetic author is bringing out the same thing as Isaiah had emphasised. That Ahaz was withdrawing from his position as son of David, and ‘son’ of YHWH (Psalm 2.7), and was becoming the ‘son’ of the king of Assyria, replacing the covenant with YHWH by one of a covenant with the gods of Assyria and their king. He had become a total reprobate.

The literary construction of this passage is more complicated than usual. It commences and ends with the usual opening and closing formulae which form an inclusio, but the inner core is composed of three different subsections dealing with different aspects of Ahaz’s life. The overall analysis is thus as follows:

Overall Analysis.

  • a Details of the commencement of his reign (2.16.1-2).
  • b His behaviour and actions in the eyes of YHWH (2.16.3).
  • c The invasion of Judah by Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel. Judah is despoiled (2.16.4-6).
  • d The submission of Ahaz to Tiglath Pileser in Damascus (2.16.7-11).
  • c The subsequent bastardisation of the Temple resulting from that submission. The Temple is despoiled (2.16.12-18).
  • b Ahaz’s further actions to be found in the official annals of the kings of Judah (2.16.19).
  • a Details of the cessation of his reign (2.16.20).

Details Of The Commencement Of Ahaz’s reign And His Behaviour And Actions In The Eyes Of YHWH (2.16.1-3).

Ahaz was twenty years old when he commenced his co-regency with his father, and his sole reign ‘in Jerusalem’ lasted for sixteen years. As his co-regency with his father was for about eight years he would die at around forty four years old. Hezekiah was twenty five years old when Ahaz died (18.2). Thus on this basis Ahaz would have been about nineteen years old when he begat Hezekiah.

But as a result of the momentous choice that he made when he rejected YHWH’s offer to see him safely through all difficulties, he sank into spiritual degradation and behaved like the kings of Israel, and even worse, for in the extremity of his need and despair he introduced child sacrifice into Judah

2.16.1 ‘In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.

Ahaz the son of Jotham of Judah commenced his sole reign in the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah. This was the seventeenth year of Pekah commencing from his becoming deputy and co-regent (or rival ruler) to Pekahiah in Gilead.

The full name of Ahaz was Jeho-ahaz. It may be that his behaviour was seen as so abominable that the name of YHWH was dropped from his name. In an Assyrian list of kings who paid tribute to Assyria he was named as Ya-u-ha-zi of Ya-u-da-aia. But it may even be that Ahaz chose to drop the name of YHWH from his name himself when he became an apostate. The discovery of a seal bearing the inscription, ‘Ashan, official of Ahaz’ would appear to confirm the use of the shorter name officially.

2.16.2a ‘Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem.’

When Ahaz became co-regent to his father he was twenty years old, the co-regency lasted the length of his father’s sole reign (eight years), thus he began his sole reign at twenty eight years old and reigned ‘in Jerusalem’ (i.e. as sole Davidic ruler) for sixteen years. The name of the queen mother is not given. That may be because she had already died when this was first recorded.

2.16.2b-4 ‘And he did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH his God, like David his father, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yes, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations, whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel, and he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.’

Apart from when under the influence of the house of Ahab, the kings of Judah since the days of Asa had ‘done what was right in the eyes of YHWH’ even though they had not sufficiently clamped down on the illegitimate high places which had proliferated in the days of Rehoboam (1 Kings 15.23). But now Ahaz did a full turn about and became more evil than all who had gone before him in either Judah or Israel. There were two reasons for this. The first was the political necessity that resulted from his submission to the king of Assyria. The second was as a result of his own reaction to his refusal to respond to YHWH when he rejected YHWH’s almost incredible offer to give him any sign that he wanted in heaven or earth so that he might stand firm in his trust in YHWH in the face of all opposition (Isaiah 7.11). It was inevitable that having made such a rejection he would seek refuge elsewhere, in other words in polytheism.

Note the unique way in which this is put in order to bring out the contrast between his behaviour and that of his ‘father’ David, and even between his behaviour and that of the kings of Judah who had done evil in the sight of YHWH (Solomon - 1 Kings 11.4-6; Jehoram - 8.18; Ahaziah - 8.27). ‘He DID NOT do what was right in the eyes of YHWH.’ Rather he went to the other extreme, behaving like the kings of Israel, and going even further into degradation than them, for he not only offered worship to Baal, but he engaged in child sacrifice, probably by way of the worship of Melek (Molech - which is Melek with the vowels altered by being replaced with the vowels of ‘bosheth’ = ‘shame’) the god of the Ammonites whose worship had spread wider than Ammon.

The only other incidence of child sacrifice that we have previously come across was that which took place when the king of Moab, in extreme desperation, offered up his son on the walls of Kir-har-a-seth, an incident of such abomination that it caused the forces of Israel, Judah and Edom to withdraw in horror (3.27). Later the practise would become more prevalent in Judah (see 17.17; 21.6; 23.10; Micah 6.7; Jeremiah 7.31; 19.5 - ‘to burn their sons as burnt offerings to Baal’; 32.35 - ‘to Molech’; etc). It was primarily carried out in the valley of Hinnom which finally became the rubbish dump of Jerusalem. This was seen as the greatest depth of evil to which a man could sink.

Thus Ahaz’s evil is emphasised in three ways:

  • Firstly he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, both in their full worship of Baal, and in their ignoring of the covenant of YHWH..
  • Secondly he made his sons to pass through the fire according to the abomination of the nations whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel. Jeremiah 19.5 makes clear that this refers to child sacrifice, although it must be recognised that child sacrifice had not been common among the Canaanites. It was something indulged in (apart from in the case of the half savage Ammonites) only in extreme circumstances. This illustrates the extremeness of Ahaz’s desperation as a result of his rejection of YHWH.
  • Thirdly he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills and under every green tree. This had become common practise among many in Judah in the time of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14.23) following on the example of Solomon in his later years, and had never been properly stamped out even by kings who did ‘right in the eyes of YHWH’. But now the king was indulging in it himself. The hills were seen as being nearer to the abode of the gods, and as even being such. The spreading green trees were seen as containing ‘divine’ life, in other words, animism.

The Invasion Of Judah By Rezin King Of Aram And Pekah King Of Israel. Judah Is Despoiled (2.16.4-6).

The gathering threat from Israel and Aram to replace first Jotham, and then after his death Ahaz, with an Aramaean puppet who was ‘the son of Tabeel’ (Isaiah 7.6) became a full reality in the time of Ahaz. The combined forces of Aram and Israel advanced on Jerusalem, wasting the land before them and slaughtering many people, although not necessarily taking all the fortified cities of Judah (it was not an attempt to totally subjugate Judah). But in spite of being besieged Jerusalem did not yield, and they could not overcome it. At the same time an Aramaean army went to the aid of Edom, who were part of their alliance, and freed Elath from the grasp of Judah.

Ahaz recognised that he was in desperate straits, and as the Book of Isaiah reveals, he was torn three ways. Some called on him to join the anti-Assyrian alliance with Aram and Israel, others called on him to submit to the king of Assyria as his vassal thus obtaining his aid, and still others, no doubt partly influenced by Isaiah, called on him to look to YHWH alone for help. The full story can be found in Isaiah 7 onwards (see our commentary). But Ahaz, in spite of an unprecedented offer from YHWH, would choose to submit himself to the king of Assyria and therefore sent messengers offering his submission, promising tribute, and calling for his assistance.

Analysis.

  • a Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war, and they besieged Ahaz (2.16.5a).
  • b But they were unable to fight (2.16.5b).
  • a At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram, and drove the Jews from Elath, and the Aramaeans came to Elath, and dwelt there, to this day (2.16.6).

Note that in ‘a’ Jerusalem was besieged, and in the parallel Elath was taken and occupied from then on. Centrally in ‘b’ the enemy could not overcome Ahaz, because at this stage YHWH was with him, as Isaiah makes clear.

2.16.5a ‘Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war, and they besieged Ahaz.’

Apart from aid given to the Edomites, possibly as part of the package in which they supported the Aramaeans in their war against Judah, the full force of Aram and Israel advanced on Jerusalem, slaying and spoiling as they went, and shutting up many Judaeans in their fortified cities. The aim was not so much to occupy Judah as to set on the throne of Judah a puppet king. We know from Isaiah that this intended king was ‘the son of Tabeel’. This sonship may have been through a daughter of Ahaz married to an Aramaean named Tabeel, or Tabeel may have been the grandfather, whose daughter had married a son of Jotham or Uzziah, who could thus be seen as having a partial claim to the throne. The name might indicate an alliance with an Aramaean princess connected to Beth Tab’el, a place known from contemporary Aramaean inscriptions as an Aramaean land in northern Transjordan. The result was that Jerusalem found itself under siege.

2.16.5b ‘And they were unable to fight.’

One way of seeing this is to take it as meaning that Israel and Aram were unable to fight because they could not breach the walls of Jerusalem or entice Judah out to fight. Alternatively it could signify that Ahaz and Judah found themselves unable to fight. Either is possible, but the fact that Ahaz was able to appeal to the king of Assyria must favour the former. What cannot be avoided is the thought of what Judah had suffered because Ahaz had turned down YHWH’s offer of protection. Many Judaeans not enjoying the protection of the walls of Jerusalem had been carried captive to Damascus and Samaria, and there had been great slaughter (2 Chronicles 28.5-8).

2.16.6 ‘At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram, and drove the Jews from Elath, and the Edomites came to Elath, and dwelt there, to this day.’

At the same time as they besieged Jerusalem Rezin the king of Aram sent an army to Edom where he assisted the Edomites in recovering Elath which had so long been under the control of Judah (14.22). The Aramaeans appear to have had close connections with Edom and with the other Transjordan tribes, and were regularly involved in assisting them. See 2 Samuel 8.13; Isaiah 17.2 (where Aroer is probably the Aroer in southern Transjordan) and consider the assistance that they gave to the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10). While it is true that the Hebrew consonants for Edom and Aram were very similar, we should always remember that the copyists had regularly previously heard the text being read out and would thus not have been easily deceived by the similarity in an uncertain text. Note the use of the term ‘Jews’ for the first time, here referring to the people of Judah.

Excavations at Ezion Geber revealed a seal of Jotham in one layer followed by the discovery of jars with ‘belonging to Qausanal’ in the next layer. Qaus was the national god of Edom, thus confirming the situation described above. Aram and Edom were close allies.

The author is thus bringing out that while YHWH had not totally destroyed Ahaz, He had afflicted him sorely. Such was the consequence of rejecting YHWH.

The Appeal Of Ahaz To Tiglath-pileser III, King Of Assyria, And His Total Submission To Him In Both Word And Behaviour (2.16.7-11).

Having expressed his unwillingness to rely on YHWH Ahaz had no alternative but to turn to the King of Assyria as the only one powerful enough to help him. As the servant and ‘son’ of YHWH he should, of course, have looked to YHWH. But instead he voluntarily transferred his loyalty to Tiglath-pileser and the gods of Assyria. He thereby ceased to be YHWH’s servant and son, openly confessing himself as the servant and son of the king of Assyria, and thus forfeited any claim on the Davidic covenant. While his appeal was outwardly successful it was at great cost. Judah lost its independence and became a vassal state of Assyria, all its treasures were transferred to the Assyrian treasury, and Judah had to introduce into YHWH’s Temple symbols of the god of Assyria who would have to be paid due honour, at least by the king and his leading courtiers.

  • a And Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son, come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me (2.16.7).
  • b And Ahaz took the silver and gold which was found in the house of YHWH, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria (2.16.8).
  • c And the king of Assyria listened to him, and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried its people captive to Kir, and slew Rezin (2.16.9).
  • b And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which was at Damascus, and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all its workmanship (2.16.10).
  • a And Urijah the priest built an altar, according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so did Urijah the priest make it against the coming of king Ahaz from Damascus (2.16.11).

Note that in ‘a’ Ahaz surrendered his position as son of David and ‘son’ of YHWH in favour of being the ‘son’ of the king of Assyria (2 Samuel 7.14; Psalm 2.7), and in the parallel he surrendered the Temple, either to the kings and gods of Assyria, or to the gods of Aram (2 Chronicles 28.22-23). In ‘b’ Ahaz sent a present to the king of Assyria as an act of submission, and in the parallel he himself submitted to the king of Assyria. Centrally in ‘c’ the king of Assyria dealt with Aram on his behalf.

2.16.7 ‘And Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son, come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me.’

This abject message from Ahaz to Tiglath-pileser finally confirmed his refusal to look to YHWH for help. Instead of pleading with YHWH on the basis of his sonship (2 Samuel 7.14; Psalm 2.7) and as ‘the son of David’ (on the basis of the Davidic covenant), he submitted to Tiglath-pileser by describing himself as his ‘servant and son’. In the passage Tiglath-pileser is only named here and in verse 10 where Ahaz made his personal submission, otherwise he is ‘the king of Assyria. This emphasises the personal nature of his submission in this letter. There is here a clear transfer of his loyalty from YHWH to the king and gods of Assyria. And it is to Tiglath-pileser that he appeals as his saviour (‘save me’ - compare 13.5) against the kings of Aram and Israel who are attacking him.

Communications between kings by means of letters sent by the hands of messengers are well attested at this time, especially with regard to Assyria.

This submission may well have been made while he was co-regent but in total control because his father, who died at a relatively young age, was ailing According to an Assyrian eponym list Damascus fell in around 732 BC, which was around the time when Ahaz became sole ruler of Judah. Thus his appeal to Assyria must have taken place prior to this, as is confirmed by an Assyrian record of his paying tribute to Tiglath-pileser along with some of Judah’s neighbours (which do, however, exclude Israel and Aram).

2.16.8 ‘And Ahaz took the silver and gold which was found in the house of YHWH, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria.’

But it cost Judah dearly, for once again the treasury of Judah was emptied, something which to the author was a constant sign of YHWH’s displeasure. Compare 12.18; 14.14; 18.15; 24.13; 1 Kings 14.6; 15.18. Officially it was given as a ‘present’ because it had not been demanded but the king of Assyria would see it as tribute, and as an indication of vassalship. Note how the Temple treasury is regularly paralleled with the treasury in the king’s palace. The emphasis is on the emptying of the treasury, not on the Temple.

2.16.9 ‘And the king of Assyria listened to him, and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried its people captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.’

The king of Assyria responded to his request, probably by continuing to do what he had already intended to do. This verse is very much a summary of that response. He had in fact firstly invaded Philistia as far as the borders of Egypt, then he turned back and invaded Israel, with Pekah being replaced by Hoshea, an exchange which saved Israel from final destruction, and finally he crushed Aram, killing Rezin, and carrying the cream of the people of Aram captive to Kir (in Elam - Isaiah 22.5-6). The process took some time, but it relieved the pressure on Jerusalem.

2.16.10 ‘And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which was at Damascus, and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all its workmanship.’

As a result of his appeal king Ahaz then had to go to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser in person and make his submission. Such a submission would confirm his vassalship, and would inevitably result in Assyrian gods being required to be introduced into the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus the altar that Ahaz saw in Damascus may have been an Aramaean one, now ‘converted’ to being an altar used for the worship of the Assyrian gods (Damascus had been incorporated within an Assyrian province under Assyrian governors), or it may have been an Assyrian one introduced into Damascus by the victorious king of Assyria. Either way it was the one of which he was required to introduce a copy into the Temple, for part of his obligations under his vassalship would be to introduce an altar, and probably an image, into the Temple as bidden by the king of Assyria, in order that Assyrian gods might be worshipped there, alongside the national God. This would be an acknowledgement of the superiority of the Assyrian gods who had given Assyria dominance over Judah. And presumably the one that he was required to introduce was the one of which he sent details to Urijah the priest. By this means Ahaz had voluntarily brought himself into covenant with Assyria and its gods, and had accepted the king of Assyria as his overlord and ‘father’ thus demoting YHWH. He had forfeited the possibility of any help from YHWH.

2.16.11 ‘And Urijah the priest built an altar, according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so did Urijah the priest make it against the coming of king Ahaz from Damascus.’

Having received his instructions Urijah ‘the Priest’ did what was required of him, and built an altar in accordance with Ahaz’s specifications, ready for when the king returned. The Temple takeover was in process. In Isaiah 2 Urijah is mentioned as a reliable witness to Isaiah’s ‘advertisement’ concerning the name of his son, but not necessarily as in favour of Isaiah’s position. Here he is depicted as meekly submitting to what he knew to be wrong. (Isaiah would not have done it).

The Subsequent Bastardisation Of The Temple Resulting From Ahaz’s Submission. The Temple Is Despoiled (2.16.12-18).

What followed was unquestionably a bastardisation of the Temple. The ‘true’ altar of YHWH was replaced with one based on a foreign pattern, and the offerings made on that altar would partly be to the gods of Assyria and partly to YHWH (possibly often both at the same time in the eyes of different worshippers). The Temple had thus become similar to the syncretistic sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. This was further confirmed by the fact that the Temple ceased to be the royal chapel, with the special passageway leading from the palace to the Temple being closed, in recognition of the new situation whereby the Temple was now under the sovereignty of Assyria. Furthermore, the altar of YHWH became Ahaz’s own altar for the purposes of divination, and all signs of the special relationship of YHWH with Judah, indicating His rule over the twelve tribes, such as the twelve oxen under the moulten sea, and the lions, oxen and cherubim on the plates covering the laver stands, were removed. Judah was now to be seen as wholly subservient to Assyria in both its worship and its rule. It was not that the Assyrians sought to interfere with the local gods of their vassals, they simply required that the gods of Assyria be acknowledged as well, and that Assyria be pre-eminent. But Ahaz took it further than required.

Analysis.

  • a And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar, and the king drew near to the altar, and offered on it. And he burnt his burnt-offering and his meal-offering, and poured his drink-offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace-offerings, on the altar (2.16.13).
  • b And the bronze altar, which was before YHWH, he brought from the forefront of the house, from between his altar and the house of YHWH, and put it on the north side of his altar (2.16.14).
  • c And king Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, “On the great altar burn the morning burnt-offering, and the evening meal-offering, and the king’s burnt-offering, and his meal-offering, with the burnt-offering of all the people of the land, and their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings, and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt-offering, and all the blood of the sacrifice” (2.16.15a).
  • b And the bronze altar will be for me to enquire by. Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded (2.16.15b-16).
  • a And king Ahaz cut off the panels of the bases, and removed the laver from off them, and took down the sea from off the bronze oxen which were under it, and put it on a pavement of stone , and the covered way for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king’s entry outside, he turned to the house of YHWH, because of the king of Assyria (2.16.17-18).

Note that in ‘a’ the new altar was dedicated by the king to the service of Assyria, and in the parallel the old signs of Judah’s independence were removed. In ‘b’ the bronze altar was sidelined, and in the parallel it became Ahaz’s altar of divination. Centrally in ‘c’ all worship was conducted on the new foreign great altar.

2.16.12-13 ‘And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar, and the king drew near to the altar, and offered on it. And he burnt his burnt-offering and his meal-offering, and poured his drink-offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace-offerings, on the altar.’

Once the king returned from Damascus he dedicated the new high altar (the fact that this was a dedication is evidenced by the fact that the blood was sprinkled on it), and acting as a king-priest, offered his own burnt offering, meal offering, drink offering, and blood of the peace offerings. For these types of offerings see Leviticus 1-7. But they should only have been offered by ‘sons of Aaron’. By this he was committing both himself and Judah fully to worship at the new foreign altar. And however the rest of the Jews viewed the situation, in his own eyes he was making his offerings to foreign gods (2 Chronicles 28.23). This was indeed the very purpose of the new altar, and the reason for its existence. Ahaz was not just ‘modernising’ the Temple, he was bastardising it. Against all God’s commands he had introduced an altar made of hewn stone, one that was approached by steps up to the altar. (See Exodus 20.25-26).

The burnt offering was the offering which was wholly consumed by the fire and offered to God. The meal offering was the offering of the gifts of creation. The drink offering was in respect of the libations of wine offered at the altar. The peace offerings were those offerings which were partly partaken of by the people.

2.16.14 ‘And the bronze altar, which was before YHWH, he brought from the forefront of the house, from between his altar and the house of YHWH, and put it on the north side of his altar.’

The true altar of YHWH, ‘the bronze altar which was before YHWH’ (and was acknowledged by Him) he had removed from its central position and put on the north side of the new foreign altar. Notice the confirmation of the fact that this was recorded by eyewitnesses, something made evident by the unusual temporary situation of having two altars. It is clear from this that Ahaz had sent his instructions about the building of a new altar, instructions which had been faithfully carried out, but he had failed to give instructions concerning what was to happen to the old altar. So Urijah had accordingly built the new altar behind the current bronze altar of YHWH, and it was not until the king returned that the bronze altar’s future could be determined. For only the king could sanction the removal of the bronze altar.

2.16.15a ‘And king Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, “On the great altar burn the morning burnt-offering, and the evening meal-offering, and the king’s burnt-offering, and his meal-offering, with the burnt-offering of all the people of the land, and their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings, and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt-offering, and all the blood of the sacrifice.’

From now on all of Judah’s recognised offerings had to be offered on the new altar. In effect these offerings now served a multiple purpose. Offered by the authorised priests of YHWH they could be seen as offerings to YHWH, but as offered on the foreign altar they would also be offerings to the gods of Assyria and Aram, and this was especially so when they were offered by the king-priest himself. The offerings included the morning and evening offerings which were offered every day on behalf of God’s people (Exodus 29.38-43; Numbers 28.2-8; mentioned also in 3.20; 1 Kings 18.29), the king’s special burnt offering and meal offering, and the burnt offerings, meal offerings and other sacrifices offered on behalf of the people (see Leviticus 1-7). All were being bastardised.

Note how the author records it without comment, but we need not doubt that he did it with gritted teeth. As we have seen before he regularly records things without comment and expects us to recognise their significance. The same is true here.

2.16.15b ‘And the bronze altar will be for me to enquire by.’

The biggest insult to YHWH of all was that the bronze altar on which so many offerings had been made to YHWH, was trivialised by being turned into a private altar which Ahaz could use for the purposes of divination, probably by means of the examination of the entrails of the animal sacrifices.

2.16.16 ‘Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded.’

We can almost hear the scandalised note in the author’s voice as he explains that the High Priest made no objection to all this, but carried out all the instructions of Ahaz. He did not seek to defend the purity of Yahwism in any way. He took the way of compromise. Such was the situation in Yahwism at that time. (And this would be in the face of Isaiah’s protests).

2.16.17 ‘And king Ahaz cut off the panels of the bases, and removed the laver from off them, and took down the sea from off the bronze oxen which were under it, and put it on a pavement of stone.’

Furthermore Ahaz removed all the symbols which emphasised the independence of the Jews and the significance of God’s people. He cut off the panels on the bases of the lavers which were decorated with lions, oxen and cherubim, representing the heavenly connection of God’s people with YHWH, and removed the twelve oxen which held up the moulten sea, which represented the twelve tribes and their princes.

There may also have been in this an attempt to obtain as much valuable metal as possible in view of the need to pay tribute, but that is not what the context is all about, and it is not consistent with the fact that the bronze bulls were still in existence in Jeremiah 52.20. Thus it would appear that the bronze bulls were put in storage (and possibly reinstated by Hezekiah). The context is stressing the stripping away from the Temple of all that was distinctively connected with the religious position of Judah, and that is what the author is seeking to emphasise.

2.16.18 ‘And the covered way for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king’s entry outside, he turned to the house of YHWH, because of the king of Assyria.’

The final alteration was the closing of the private access of the king to the Temple. It was no longer the king’s chapel. It was under the control of the king of Assyria. The outside entry from the palace, and the covered way in the Temple by which the king approached the altar area each Sabbath, were both closed in recognition of the overall lordship of the king of Assyria. ‘He turned to the house of YHWH.’ That is he made them totally independent of the palace complex and made the house of YHWH self-contained.

Ahaz’s Reign Comes To An End (2.16.19-20).

2.16.19 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’

The passage commenced with a description of Ahaz’s apostasy and it now closes with the usual suggestion that if we want to know more about his acts we consult the official annals of the kings of Judah (not in fact available to us).

2.16.20 ‘And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Hezekiah his son reigned instead of him.’

Ahaz ‘slept with his fathers’, that is, he died. (Even an assassinated king ‘slept with his fathers’). And he was buried with them in the city of David. It is pointedly not said that he was buried in the tomb of the kings. He was an outcast.

The Reign Of Hoshea King Of Israel c. 732/1-723/2 BC And The Last Days Of Israel (2.17.1-7).

The history here is very much telescoped. Hoshea had assassinated Pekah and he immediately then submitted to Assyria, paying heavy tribute. Fortunately for Israel Tiglath-pileser accepted his submission. This resulted in a reprieve for Israel who, unlike Damascus, were not at that time destroyed.

Hoshea’s vassal status then had to be re-confirmed when, on Tiglath-pilesers’s death, Tiglath-pileser’s son, Shalmaneser ‘came up against him’ at which point Hoshea renewed his submission and became Shalmaneser’s servant and paid tribute. This need not indicate that he was seen as in a state of rebellion, only as now needing to submit to the new king. On the death of Tiglath-pileser it would be necessary for treaties to be renewed and new submissions made to the new king, and tribute might well have been delayed by Hoshea until it was certain who would successfully succeed Tiglath-pileser (succession was not always straightforward). Thus by this ‘visit’ he was being given a firm reminder of his responsibilities.

This tribute then continued for some years. But at some point Hoshea apparently felt that with Egypt’s offered help, he could take the risk of withholding tribute. The initiative may well have come from Egypt who wanted to set up a buffer between Egypt and Assyria. We can understand Hoshea’s error. Egypt had no doubt always been looked on as a powerful country, even if at present inactive in Palestine, and Hoshea was not to know that at this time it was divided up and weak, and simply trying to protect itself by stirring up people against Assyria. He no doubt felt that with Egypt behind him he, along with other states, would now be able to resist Assyria. But he was gravely mistaken. No actual help would come from Egypt.

Analysis.

  • a In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned for nine years (2.17.1).
  • b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him (2.17.2).
  • c Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria, and Hoshea became his servant, and brought him tribute (2.17.3).
  • d And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year (2.17.4a).
  • c Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison (2.17.4b).
  • b Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it for three years (2.17.5).
  • a In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2.17.6).

Note that in ‘a’ Hoshea commenced reigning in Samaria and reigned for nine years, and in the parallel in the ninth year he ceased to reign because the cream of Israel were exiled. In ‘b’ he did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH, and in the parallel YHWH responded by sending the king of Assyria to besiege Samaria. In ‘c’ Shalmaneser made him yield to him as his vassal and pay tribute, and in the parallel he put him in prison because he had failed to pay tribute. Centrally in ‘d’ he had rebelled against Assyria at the instigation of the king of Egypt, and had withheld tribute.

2.17.1 ‘In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned for nine years.’

As we saw in 15.30 Hoshea assassinated Pekah, the preceding king of Israel in order to submit to Assyria, thereby saving Israel from total destruction. As a result he was confirmed in his kingship by the Assyrians. This was in the twelfth year of Ahaz and the twentieth year of Jotham (15.30), Thus Ahaz’s twelve years were years of co-regency. But Ahaz was by now in sole control because of his father’s illness, and thus seen as a main party. Hoshea reigned for nine years during most of which Israel paid tribute to Assyria.

2.17.2 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him.’

This rather enigmatic statement is not easy to interpret. It would suggest that he did not lay any emphasis on Jeroboam’s false cult, but nevertheless did not truly turn to YHWH. It may also indicate that he had more concern for social justice. Possibly he was in fact lukewarm towards religion generally, although perfunctorily engaging in the worship of the Assyrian deities, simply because he had no choice in the matter. Some have connected it with a willingness to allow his subjects to visit the temple at Jerusalem inasmuch as, according to 2 Chronicles 30.10, Hezekiah invited to the feast of the Passover, held at Jerusalem, the Israelites from Ephraim and Manasseh as far as to Zebulun, with some individuals from these tribes accepting his invitation

2.17.3 ‘Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria, and Hoshea became his servant, and brought him tribute.’

Shalmaneser V followed Tiglath-pileser III. At the commencement of any new reign there would be a tendency to withhold tribute in order to see what the new king would do, but once Shalmaneser came on the scene, possibly sending a warning ahead, Hoshea rapidly submitted and paid tribute. ‘Became his servant’ i.e. acknowledged himself as his vassal.

2.17.4a ‘And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year.’

Years passed during which Hoshea continued to pay tribute, but then Hoshea began to enter into intrigues with ‘So, king of Egypt’ and withheld tribute, and the king of Assyria, through his spies, possibly stationed in Samaria, discovered the fact. The king of Egypt in question was probably Osorkon IV. It seems probable that Osorkon, who only ruled a part of Egypt, initiated the intrigue as a way of protecting the borders of Egypt, without having too much concern about the consequences for his ‘allies’. It would be left to them to look after themselves. But Hoshea probably saw Egypt as a powerful united country whom even Assyria would fear. In fact around this time (in about 725 BC), Egypt had two lines of senior pharaohs reigning in the Delta, Osorkon IV in Tanis (Zoan) and Iuput II in Leontopolis further south. Neither king actually ruled effectively over anything more than his own local province, but Hosea probably did not realise that. Tanis (Zoan) would be the recognised objective of Hebrew envoys to Egypt in the eighth and seventh centuries BC (compare Isaiah 19.11, 13; 30.2, 4). That Osorkon was not to be relied on comes out in the outcome.

2.17.4b ‘Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.’

It would appear that as Shalmaneser approached Israel Hoshea went out to meet him, probably hoping to make his submission and blame the intrigue on his anti-Assyrian compatriots. Shalmaneser was not, however, convinced, and shut him up, bound, in prison.

2.17.5 ‘Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it for three years.’

Then Shalmaneser advanced into Israel, ‘throughout all the land’, occupying every part of it and laying siege to Samaria whose stout walls held him back for three years. It was during this siege that Shalmaneser died and was replaced by Sargon II who finally took the city. Alternatively Sargon may have been acting as his father’s commander-in-chief. Both seemingly laid claim to having taken the city.

2.17.6 ‘In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.’

Once Samaria was taken many of its people were carried away into exile, some to Assyria itself, and others to the cities of the Medes. There are a number of Assyrian records of this event. The Nimrud Prism reads, ‘I clashed with them in the power of the great gods, my lords, and counted as spoil 27.280 people together with their chariots, --- and the gods in whom they trusted.’ The Display Inscription reads, ‘I surrounded and captured the city of Samaria, 27,290 of the people who dwell in it I took away as prisoners.’ These would be the cream of the city, including all the princes, aristocrats and businessmen. Their journey would not have been a pleasant one as they would be shamed and chained (compare Isaiah 20.4 of captured Egyptians) but eventually they would be settled in the places mentioned.

Interestingly records have been discovered which have confirmed these settlements. Texts from Gozan (tell Halaf) mention as living there ‘Halbisu from Samaria’ and list other names compounded with Yau (YHWH), while an ostracon from Calah (now Nimrud) of about 720/700 BC contains a list of ‘biblical’ names such as ‘Elinur son of Menahem; Nedabel son of Hanun; Elinur son of Michael’, and so on.

Thus came to an end Israel as a united people, and shortly afterwards the exiles would be replaced by peoples transferred from other areas (see verse 24), resulting in a mixed population. Israel was no more (apart from those who had settled in Judah or who had fled to Judah in the face of the Assyrian onslaught, of which there would be a good many) and its exiles would slowly be absorbed into the surrounding peoples.

YHWH’s Final Judgment On Israel Because Of All Their Disobedience Will Result In Their Being Removed In The Same Way As He Had Previously Cast Out The Nations From Before Them (2.17.7-23).

Having described the taking away of the cream of the people of Israel into other lands the prophetic author gives his explanation of why YHWH has allowed such a thing. The philosophy of sin and retribution found here is essentially Mosaic, especially as brought out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (to call it simply Deuteronomic is to close the eyes to the wider facts for the sake of a theory. The ideas are found throughout the Pentateuch). It was because they had disobeyed His commandments, and especially because they had engaged in false worship and evil doings in spite of all the He had done for them in delivering them out of Egypt, and they had continued to do it in spite of the fact that He had sent prophets to warn them, that they were open to judgment. Thus just as YHWH had cast out the nations from before them, so now He was removing them, all except ‘Judah’ (i.e. the southern kingdom).

While there are certainly indications in the passage of the author’s knowledge of the whole of the Pentateuch, and of Joshua to Samuel, (as there are throughout the Book of Kings), it is in fact surprising how little he draws on their language in any depth, demonstrating that while he would use choice phrases, the thinking was his own. The principles behind his statements are, however, undoubtedly found throughout the Pentateuch.

The passage fits together as a whole and there is therefore no reason to seek diverse authorship. We can view it as follows:

The Activity Of Israel.

  • This commences with the deliverance from Egypt (verses 7-8, compare Exodus 1-20).
  • Considers how Israel gradually introduced syncretism into Yahwism in the time of the Judges, something which then expanded even more under the kings (verses 9-12).
  • Emphasises how YHWH sent His servants the prophets to try to win them back (verses 13-15).
  • Moves on to the action of Jeroboam which resulted in the ultimate dilution of Yahwism and the covenant (verse 16).
  • Continues on with the thought of the introduction of further outside foreign influences through Ahab and others (verse 17).
  • And concludes that this is what has resulted in the exile of Israel, with a probationary period and a warning being given to Judah (verse 18-19).

The Activity Of YHWH.

Verses 20-22 are a review and cover the same ground as above, but this time from the point of view of YHWH’s direct activity.

  • In the time of the Judges and Samuel, He had delivered them to the spoilers (verse 20).
  • He had then divided up the two kingdoms, rending Israel from the faltering house of David, but instead of their taking warning as a result it had produced the resultant apostasy of Jeroboam, an apostasy which Israel had lapped up (verses 21-22; compare 1 Kings 14.7-8).
  • And finally, having first sent His prophets to plead with them, He had fulfilled what the prophets had warned about, namely their sending into exile and the destruction of their kingdom (verse 23).

The passage can also be analysed as follows:

Analysis.

  • a And it was so, because the children of Israel had sinned against YHWH their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the nations, whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they made (2.17.7-8).
  • b And the children of Israel did secretly things that were not right against YHWH their God: and they built themselves high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city, and they set themselves up pillars and Asherim on every high hill, and under every green tree, and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the nations whom YHWH carried away before them; and they wrought wicked things to provoke YHWH to anger, and they served idols, of which YHWH had said to them, “You shall not do this thing” (2.17.9-12).
  • c Yet YHWH testified to Israel, and to Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, “Turn you from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets” (2.17.13).
  • d Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, in a similar way to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in YHWH their God (2.17.14).
  • e And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified to them, and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the nations who were round about them, concerning whom YHWH had charged them that they should not do like them (2.17.15).
  • f And they forsook all the commandments of YHWH their God, and made themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal (2.17.16).
  • e And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger (2.17.17).
  • d Therefore YHWH was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight. There was none left but the tribe of Judah only (2.17.18).
  • c Judah also did not keep the commandments of YHWH their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made (2.17.19).
  • b And YHWH rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight. For he tore Israel from the house of David, and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king, and Jeroboam drove Israel from following YHWH, and made them sin a great sin (2.17.20-21).
  • a And the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did. They did not depart from them, until YHWH removed Israel out of his sight, as he spoke by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria to this day (2.17.22-23).

Note that in ‘a’ they disobeyed YHWH and followed the gods of the nations who were cast out, and in the parallel because they walked in the sins of Jeroboam they themselves were to be cast out. In ‘b’ we have a description of all the ways in which Israel provoked God to anger, and in the parallel we have the consequences for Israel. In ‘c’ YHWH testified to both Israel and Judah what would happen to them if they did not obey His commandments and in the parallel Judah too was found guilty of breaking His commandments. In ‘d’ they hardened their necks and followed the unbelieving ways of their fathers, and in the parallel YHWH was angry and removed them out of His sight, apart from Judah. In ‘e’ they became vain and followed the nations round about, and in the parallel they especially did this by child sacrifice, and using divination and enchantments. Centrally in ‘f’’ they forsook the commandments of YHWH and sought other gods.

2.17.7-8 ‘And it was so, because the children of Israel had sinned against YHWH their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the nations, whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they made.’

The reason why YHWH had allowed the exile of the Israelites to happen is now given. It was because in spite of the fact that He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, they had sinned against Him and had rather ‘feared’ other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom YHWH had cast out before them. And as He had constantly warned them, if they did this they would be ‘spewed out of the land’ (Leviticus 18.24-29). Thus this exile followed His constant warnings to them of what would happen if they failed to obey His covenant. See especially Leviticus 18.24-29 (in the context of passing through the fire to Molech); 26.30-33 (note the direct connection there of the exile with ‘high places’ and ‘images’); Deuteronomy 28.64. The warnings in Leviticus appear to be especially in mind.

The theme of YHWH’s deliverance of His people from Egypt is a common one in Scripture. It was this that had made them His special people (Exodus 19.5-6; 20.2). and it was constantly mentioned in the Psalms. After He had put so much effort into redeeming them, it was seen as making their turning to other gods totally inexcusable. How much more then are we inexcusable if we turn away from obedience to the One Who suffered so much for us, and redeemed us through His cross.

For the phrase ‘under the hand of Pharaoh’ compare Genesis 41.35. For ‘Pharaoh king of Egypt’ see Genesis 41.46; Exodus 6.11, 13, 27, 29; Deuteronomy 7.8. For ‘bringing forth out of the land of Egypt’ compare Exodus 29.46; Leviticus 23.43; Deuteronomy 29.25; Joshua 24.17; 1 Samuel 12.6; 1 Kings 8.21; 9.9. For the idea of ‘the statutes of the nations’ (chuqqoth ha goyim) see Leviticus 20.23 (chuqqoth ha goy); 18.2-3, 30.

2.17.9-12 ‘And the children of Israel did surreptitiously things that were not right against YHWH their God, and they built themselves high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city, and they set themselves up pillars and Asherim on every high hill, and under every green tree, and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the nations whom YHWH carried away before them; and they wrought wicked things to provoke YHWH to anger, and they served idols, of which YHWH had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.” ’

The idea behind ‘surreptitiously’ (or ‘secretly’) is that they maintained outwardly the worship of YHWH while at the same time flirting with Baal and Asherah ‘in secret’. Like so many foolish people they thought that God would not see (such was their low conception of YHWH. But as we often think the same it is difficult to suggest that it was a ‘primitive’ idea).

But what they did was not really done in too much secrecy, except possibly from the upright priests and the prophets, and the righteous kings. They built their high places (bamoth) in their cities, for a high place could be any place uplifted for worship, such as a high altar approached by steps or a roof top sanctuary. And they also set up pillars (to Baal) and Asherim (images or poles set up to Asherah, the Canaanite fertility goddess) at hill top sanctuaries and beneath spreading and fruitful trees, worshipping in the same way as the Canaanites had previously, and behaving with the same sexual licence. Thus they ‘wrought wicked things which provoked YHWH to anger’. And they specifically disobeyed YHWH by serving the very idols of which YHWH had said, “You shall not do this thing.”

‘From the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city.’ The tower of the watchmen may refer to the tower from which the shepherd watched over his flock, or it could refer to the watchtowers on the borders (compare 18.8). The fortified city was the pinnacle of civilisation. So wherever Israelites were, in country or city, they indulged in their false worship.

For the mention of ‘high places’ see Leviticus 26.30; Numbers 33.52; 1 Kings 3.2, 3 and often. For ‘under every green tree’ see 16.4; Deuteronomy 12.2; 1 Kings 14.23. For ‘provoking YHWH to anger’ see Deuteronomy 4.25; 9.1;8 31.29; 32.16, 21; 1 Kings often. For ‘fortified (fenced) cities’ see 3.19; 8.12; 10.2; Numbers 13.19;32.17, 36; Joshua 10.20; 19.29, 35; 1 Samuel 6.18; 2 Samuel 24.7.

2.17.13 ‘Yet YHWH testified to Israel, and to Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, “Turn you from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” ’

However, they were without excuse, for YHWH continually testified to both Israel and Judah through many prophets and seers, calling on Israel to turn from their evil ways, and keep His commandments and statutes, in accordance with all the Law which He gave them through His servants the prophets. Here is YHWH’s definition of righteousness.

2.17.14 ‘Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, in a similar way to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in YHWH their God.’

In spite of YHWH’s efforts Israel had not heard Him. They had ‘hardened their necks’ in the same way as their fathers had, who had also not ‘believed in YHWH their God’. Their fathers had also similarly not trusted God and obeyed Him, as had been made clear throughout the Pentateuch and the ‘historical books’, compare, for example, Exodus 32; Numbers 13-14; Judges 2. For ‘hardened-necks’ see Deuteronomy 10.16; Exodus 32.9; 33.3, 5; 34.9; Deuteronomy 9.6, 13; 31.27. For ‘believing, not believing, in YHWH their God’ see Genesis 15.6; Exodus 4.31; 14.31; Numbers 14.11; Deuteronomy 1.32; 9.23.

2.17.15 ‘And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified to them, and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the nations who were round about them, concerning whom YHWH had charged them that they should not do like them.’

Their unbelief was revealed in the fact that they rejected YHWH’s statutes and testimonies, and the covenant that He had made with their fathers (e.g. Exodus 20-24; Exodus to Numbers; Deuteronomy). Instead they followed what was empty and vain, and became foolish, following the examples of the nation round about them, in spite of the fact that YHWH had charged them not to behave like them. They had blatantly disobeyed Him.

2.17.16 ‘And they forsook all the commandments of YHWH their God, and made themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.’

And they especially forsook the first two commandments of YHWH, making molten images, even the two golden calves, and an Asherah image, and worshipping all the host of Heaven, and serving Baal. It is possible that the mention of the worship of ‘the host of Heaven’ especially had in mind Ahaz’s innovations, although we must remember that Assyrian influence had been applied to Israel much earlier, but its placing suggests rather that it refers to Canaanite religious ideas in parallel with Asherah and Baal. For the worship of the sun, moon and stars was almost universal and would have taken place in Canaan for centuries. (Consider ‘Beth-shemesh’, the house of the sun, and Re the sun god in Egypt, while Abraham’s father had probably worshipped the moon god at Harran, and the moon god yrh was worshipped at Ugarit). Thus the ‘host of heaven’ was probably simply an abbreviated way of describing such worship. For the general idea of these verses compare Exodus 20.5; 23.24; 34.13; and often. For ‘molten images’ compare Numbers 33.52; 1 Kings 1.9. For the two golden calves see 1 Kings 12.26-30. For ‘all the host of Heaven’ compare Deuteronomy 4.19; 17.3. For serving Baal and Asherah see, for example, Exodus 34.13; Deuteronomy 16.21-22; Judges 2.13; 3.7; 8.33; 10.6; 1 Samuel 12.10.

2.17.17 ‘ And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger.’

The worship of idols led on to child sacrifice, divination and sorcery. These things were evil in the eyes of YHWH and ‘provoked Him to anger’. Divination was widely practised, whether in Egypt, Philistia, Tyre, Assyria or Babylon. Indeed, Balaam was expected to use divination in his oracles against Israel (Numbers 22.7). Sorcery was also practised worldwide through the ages. All these sins were therefore probably practised in Baalism. For us ‘divination’ would include tarot cards, fortune telling, palmistry, reading tea leaves, ouija boards, and engaging in the occult, all of which are forbidden to those who walk with God.

Had ‘to cause to pass through the fire’ stood on its own we might have seen it as simply an extreme method of dedication involving fire, but Jeremiah made clear that it involved child sacrifice (Jeremiah 19.5). For the phrase compare Leviticus 18.21; Deuteronomy 18.10. For divination and enchantments see again Deuteronomy 18.10. It was therefore already present in Canaan in the time of Moses.

‘And sold themselves to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger.’ Doing evil in the eyes of YHWH is found in Numbers 32.13; Deuteronomy 4.25; 31.29. But in no case is the verb ‘sold’ applied to those verses. We can, however, compare Isaiah 52.3, where the prophet says, ‘you have sold yourselves for nothing’, (and as a result they would be redeemed without price). The idea would appear to be that they have handed themselves over either to gods or to men, and have gained nothing from it, not receiving the reward promised. Here then it probably refers to some artificial transaction whereby they had sold themselves to Baal and as a result had walked in the evil and sordidness of Baalism. But all that they had gained from it was shame and exile.

2.17.18 ‘Therefore YHWH was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight. There was none left but the tribe of Judah only.’

And all these were the reasons why YHWH was very angry with Israel and thus removed them out of His sight. It was because, instead of worshipping Him fully, and in spite of the great efforts of the prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha, they had bastardised Yahwism and diluted it until it had lost all its content. Even official Yahwism had become syncretistic and blurred, and open Baalism had become common. That was the result of ‘the sin of Jeroboam’. Judah had done a little better for they had the original Ark of the Covenant, and at least in the Temple (apart from the aberrations of those influenced by their connection with the house of Ahab, and of course Ahaz) had maintained a kind of purity of religion, at least ritualistically (but even then see Isaiah 1.11-18), while their flirting with the gods of Canaan was both unofficial, and even probably officially frowned on. Thus they alone of the tribes (‘the tribe of Judah’ here indicated all who permanently lived in Judah seen in terms of the dominant tribe) were spared YHWH’s anger, at least for a time, although with a timely warning added.

2.17.19 ‘Judah also did not keep the commandments of YHWH their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made.’

However, he did not feel that he could leave us with the impression that in Judah all was fine, so he stresses that Judah were also guilty of not keeping the commandments of YHWH, and were indeed walking in the statutes that Israel had invented, ‘the statutes of the nations’, which had resulted in social injustice and divisiveness, something which was also apparent in Judah.

A Summary Of YHWH’s Response To The Above Failures.

Throughout the whole of Israel’s history YHWH had been active in judgment on His erring people.

  • In the time of the Judges and Samuel, He had delivered them to the spoilers (verse 20; compare Judges 2.14).
  • He had then divided up the two kingdoms, rending Israel from the faltering house of David, but instead of their taking warning as a result it had produced the resultant apostasy of Jeroboam, an apostasy which Israel had lapped up (verses 21-22; compare 1 Kings 14.7-8).
  • And finally, having first sent His prophets to plead with them, He had fulfilled what the prophets had warned about, namely their sending into exile and the destruction of their kingdom (verse 23).

2.17.20 ‘And YHWH rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.’

This had in fact commenced from the beginning. It was especially true of the times of the Judges (Judges 2.14), and throughout that book. It occurred again with the Philistines in Samuel, and was only ‘reined in’ in the time of David. It occurred once more at the end of Solomon’s reign, and had continued on from then on until it had now reached its climax in the exile of many in Israel.

2.17.21 ‘For he tore Israel from the house of David, and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king, and Jeroboam drove Israel from following YHWH, and made them sin a great sin.’

Because of their sins He had torn Israel from the security of the Davidic covenant, and the protection of the house of David (viewed idealistically), for they had set over themselves the house of Jeroboam who had driven Israel from truly following YHWH. Note how YHWH’s sovereign action and man’s freewill activity go hand in hand.

2.17.22-23 ‘And the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did. They did not depart from them, until YHWH removed Israel out of his sight, as he spoke by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria to this day.’

The result was that the Israelites had set their faces to walk in all the ways of Jeroboam, and had refused to be turned from it. They had persistently continued in them in spite of the warnings of the prophets (there had, of course, been exceptions, the ‘seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal’, and the like, who composed the ‘true Israel’) until they had finally reaped their reward and had been carried away by the Assyrians out of their land to Assyria, where they still were. Thus had come to an end the northern kingdom of Israel.

The Aftermath Of The Final Israelite Exile (2.17.24-41).

We have become used to talking about The Exile, meaning the exile resulting from the last days of Jerusalem, but in fact Israel suffered many exiles. Quite apart from the number taken into exile over the centuries as a result of invasions by foreign nations which sometimes consisted of whole communities (consider e.g. the servant girl of Naaman), there was a major exile when Assyria invaded northern Israel and annexed a large section of it to form part of an Assyrian province (15.20). Large numbers of Israelites were taken away captive and colonies of Israelites were then formed in different parts of the Assyrian Empire. For them that was ‘the exile’. It was then followed by this final Israelite exile when Samaria was taken and the cream of the country sheltering in it were exiled to Assyria and Media. And to this we must add those who went into voluntary exile, fleeing as refugees to places like Egypt, and even overseas. Indeed Isaiah tells us that by his day there were exiles in Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam,Babylon, Hamath, and the islands of the sea (Isaiah 11.11; see also 43.6; 49.22-23; 51.14), and this long before what we know of as ‘the Babylonian exile’.

But the question naturally arose as to ‘what happened to the land of Israel after that?’ And that is the question that the prophetic author now seeks to answer. It must be pointed out that it is a mistake to see these people who are being described as the forbears of the ‘Samaritans’ of New Testament times. Those being described were a polytheistic people, and they remained so. The New Testament ‘Samaritans’ on the other hand were a people who had clung to their own version of the Book of the Law (the Pentateuch), were firmly monotheistic, and were localised in a specific area. They did not arise from the miscellany described below (except possibly as a small group of believing Israelites who settled together apart from the others around Shechem, determined to maintain a pure form of Yahwism, and forming their own community. But that is simply hypothesis. There is no early evidence for it).

We must first recognise that the land was not totally denuded of Israelites. Many would have fled to the mountains when the final Assyrian invasion began, and would have remained in hiding until they had gone, (they had done it often before), and the Assyrian possibly was never to remove everyone, but only the cream of the people, the rulers, the aristocrats the elders, the craftsmen, the scribes, and so on. The common people were left behind. And to these would now be added a new aristocracy transferred from other nations. And the consequence was a mixed people who were neither one thing or the other, but remained essentially polytheistic, even though it did become intermingled with a smattering of Yahwism. They were no better than those who had formed a part of the cult of Jeroboam. Indeed it is stressed that (unlike the later ‘Samaritans’) they did not observe the Law of YHWH.

They were still there with their mixed ideas in the days of the original source. Those who remained of them may well have been forcibly converted to Judaism in the days the Hasmoneans (the late inter-testamental period), when such forced conversions regularly took place (consider the Edomites and the Galileans), thus becoming ‘Jews’. But if so we have no record of the fact. And by then it might well be that many exiled Israelites had returned to their homeland. Thus the ‘Jews’ of Jesus’ days were a hotch potch of different nationalities and far from being a pure people descended from Abraham, were a multinational people. (Indeed a hitch potch of nations was what Israel had always been, as Exodus 12.38 makes clear. Consider also the servants of Abraham, e.g. Eliezer the Damascene and Hagar the Egyptian, who formed a good part of those who went to Egypt, and those who like Uriah the Hittite had become Israelites by proselytisation - Exodus 12.48).

Analysis.

  • a And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in its cities (2.17.24).
  • b And so it was, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear YHWH, therefore YHWH sent lions among them, which killed some of them (2.17.25).
  • c For which reason they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations which you have carried away, and placed in the cities of Samaria, do not know the law of the god of the land, therefore he has sent lions among them, and, behold, they kill them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land” (2.17.26).
  • d Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Carry there one of the priests whom you brought from there, and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the law of the god of the land (2.17.27).
  • e So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear YHWH (2.17.28).
  • f However every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt (2.17.29).
  • g And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim (2.17.30-31).
  • f So they feared YHWH, and made for themselves from among themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared YHWH, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away (2.17.32-33).
  • e To this day they do after the former manner. They do not fear YHWH, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law or after the commandment which YHWH commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel (2.17.34).
  • d With whom YHWH had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them, but YHWH, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, him shall you fear, and to him shall you bow yourselves, and to him shall you sacrifice” (2.17.35-36).
  • c “And the statutes and the ordinances, and the law and the commandment, which he wrote for you, you shall observe to do for ever more, and you shall not fear other gods, and the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods, but YHWH your God you shall fear, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies” (2.17.37-39).
  • b However, they did not listen, but they did after their former manner (2.17.40).
  • a So these nations feared YHWH, and served their graven images, their children likewise, and their children’s children, as did their fathers, so do they to this day (2.17.41).

Note that in ‘a’ the people were brought to Israel from many different nations, and in the parallel these nations feared YHWH and served their graven images. In ‘b’ at the beginning they did not fear YHWH, and in the parallel Israel had similarly not listened to YHWH. In ‘c’ their troubles were put down to the fact that they did not know the law of God, and in the parallel Israel were called on to obey the law of God. In ‘d’ the nations were to be taught the law of God, and in the parallel that law is summarised as it relates to their situation. In ‘e’ the priest taught them that they should fear YHWH, and in the parallel in spite of it they did not fear YHWH. In ‘f’ the peoples set up their own gods, and in the parallel they feared YHWH and worshipped their own gods. centrally in ‘g’ we learn the details of the gods who were set up as gods of the land.

2.17.24 ‘And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel, and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in its cities.’

Just as the cream of the Israelites had been transported to other lands, so the cream of the people of other lands were transported to Israel. (In the words of Sargon, ‘I settled people of the many lands I had conquered into Hatti-land’). This would not, however, take place immediately but as and when these peoples rebelled against Assyria and were thus treated in this way. The aim was to divide and rule. Some came from some distance, from Babylon and Cuthah. Others came from nearer at hand, from Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim. Meanwhile the Israelites who were left were scraping a living from parts of the deserted land, while much of the rest of the land lay waste and was an open invitation to the many wild beasts who roamed the area to take possession of it.

A rebellion in Southern Mesopotamia in Sargon’s first year (c 721 BC) resulted in peoples being deported from there to ‘Hatti land’ (which was a general description that could include Syria and Palestine) while in his second year one took place at Hamath under Ilubi’di, probably with the same result. In his seventh year (c 714 BC) Sargon records the suppression of an Arabian revolt and the settlement of captives in Samaria. Thus the new population of Samaria began to settle in and develop.

Along with a good number from Babylonia itself, people were introduced from Cuthah, a centre for the cult of Nergal, which is generally located at Tell Ibrahim north east of Babylon (in around 709 BC). They were prominent enough for their name (Kuthim) later to be used as a term of abuse for the population of Samaria. Avva is mentioned as ‘Iwwa in 18.34 along with Sepharvaim, possibly as loosely connected with Hamath, and various suggestions have been made as to its identity (e.g. Ammia near Byblos, ‘Imm east of Antioch, ‘Ama in Elam, or Tell Kefr ‘Aya on the upper Orontes). Hamath, which was north of Aram (Syria), originally submitted to Assyria, but led a coalition against Sargon which resulted in its capital city being burned, its king Ilubi’di being killed, and presumably the cream of its population transported. Sepharvaim is usually connected with Sibraim, which was between Damascus and Hamath (Ezekiel 47.16). It was called Sabara’in in the Babylonian Chronicle. Others see it as the Babylonian Sippar.

2.17.25 ‘And so it was, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear YHWH, therefore YHWH sent lions among them, which killed some of them.’

The length of time that it took for the land to be settled and restored to cultivation resulted in a good number of lions and other wild beasts establishing themselves in the area. This was always a danger when land was left unsettled (compare Leviticus 26.22; and see 1 Samuel 17.34, 46). Thus the new settlers found themselves being troubled by lions, which were a feature of Palestine for many centuries. This was put down by them to the fact that they were not giving due obeisance to the God of the land. ‘YHWH sent lions among them’ is describing what happened as seen from the author’s viewpoint. To him everything that happened was caused by YHWH. He would have agreed with Amos 3.6 which says, ‘shall there be evil in a city, and YHWH has not done it?’.

2.17.26 ‘For which reason they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations which you have carried away, and placed in the cities of Samaria, do not know the law of the god of the land, therefore he has sent lions among them, and, behold, they kill them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” ’

The problem was severe enough for the new inhabitants to appeal to Sargon pointing out that because ‘they did not know the law of the land’ the god of the land had sent lions among them to kill them. It should be noted that while on the one hand the Assyrian kings could be cruel in their tyranny, they were also on the other hand concerned for their subjects once they had colonised them. They wanted them to be semi-independent while looking to their ‘father’ the king of Assyria. After all satisfied people contributed to the wealth of Assyria. Thus he took notice of their complaint.

2.17.27 ‘Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Carry there one of the priests whom you brought from there, and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the law of the god of the land.’

Their problem was taken seriously, for Sargon gave command that one of the priests who had been brought from Samaria should be sent back in order to teach them the law of the god of the land. (He was not to know that such a priest would be a priest frowned on by YHWH as not being of the house of Aaron). Note the change from ‘him’ to ‘them’. He would not be expected to go alone, but to take with him some support.

2.17.28 ‘So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear YHWH.’

Thus a leading priest was forced to return to Samaria (no doubt with assistants) and take up his abode in Bethel, in order to teach the people ‘the fear of YHWH’. He would be seen as the ‘high priest’ of YHWH. Bethel was thus once again a centre of a form of Yahwism. But this was one of Jeroboam’s false priests, and his idea of Yahwism would not have gone down well in Jerusalem. He would probably have no law book, and would rather be teaching them what he himself had learned within the cult of Jeroboam. It was not a very promising way for these peoples to discover the real truth about YHWH.

2.17.29 ‘However every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.’

Meanwhile each nation made gods of their own and set them up in the ‘high places’ which had been left behind by the transported ‘Samaritans’. Israel thus became the home of a multiplicity of gods.

This is the first mention of the term ‘Samaritans’ in the Bible, but we must not mix these up with the Samaritans of New Testament times who were ardent monotheists based around Shechem, who had their own copy of the Law which they sought to live by. It will be noted in fact that the Samaritans mentioned in this verse have actually been transported to other countries. The term was thus NOT referring to the new people in the land.

2.17.30-31 ‘And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.’

This multiplicity of gods are now described. ‘Succoth-benoth’ probably means ‘the booths of Banitu’, a Babylonian goddess also known as Ishtar/Astarte (parallel with Asherah). As the name implies (‘the booths of prostitutes/daughters’) it was probably not a very savoury religion. Yahwism was unusual in expecting an ethical response. ‘Nergal’ (‘lord of the great city’) had his cult centre in Cuthah and was noted for bringing havoc on the world through plagues, war, pestilence and floods. His consort in the under-world was Ereshkigal. Ashima, Nibhaz and Tartak would be local deities of their own people. Adram-melech (or Adar-melech - ‘the lordship of Melech’) and Ana-melech (possibly Anu-melech - ‘the king Anu’) had similar features to Melech of the Ammonites and encouraged child sacrifice. Thus the gods that Samaria had previously turned to (verses 16-17) were simply introduced in another form.

The problem with any names of deities like this is 1). that they have to be transposed from another language, and 2). that the Hebrew writers often ‘played’ with the names of gods in order to give them a derisive meaning, indicating their contempt of them. Thus Ashima may be a deliberate corruption of Asherah, the Canaanite mother goddess (compare Amos 8.14 where Ashemath Shomeron is ‘the sin of Samaria’), and Ninhaz may be a corrupt of Mizbeach indicating a deified altar. But all this is conjectural.

2.17.32 ‘So they feared YHWH, and made for themselves from among themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places.’

So these people ‘feared YHWH’ (paid him lip service in order to get into favour with Him) and as Jeroboam had done (1 Kings 12.31) chose their own high priests to serve in the high places dedicated to YHWH, and no doubt other gods as well. And these (illegitimate) high priests sacrificed on their behalf in those high places. (So far was it from the true ‘law of the God of the land’).

2.17.33 ‘They feared YHWH, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.’

Thus their religion was totally syncretistic, and to them YHWH was simply one of a number of gods, in His case connected with Samaria. Thus they both ‘feared YHWH’ as a local deity, and continued to serve their own gods as they had done amongst their own peoples. We can compare how in Isaiah YHWH speaks of the possibility of the fear of YHWH being simply ‘a human tradition learned by rote’ (Isaiah 29.13)

The Prophetic Author’s Summing Up Of The New Religion.

The prophetic author makes quite clear that there was little connection between their parody of Yahwism, and the genuine Yahwism as practised among the Jews. He emphasises that they continued in their own way and never came into any genuine connection with either YHWH or His covenant. Above all they failed to follow YHWH’s commandments and statutes which were at the centre of true Yahwism (which was not surprising as they probably knew little about them, only the garbled version brought to them by the priest). And especially they failed to recognise that YHWH was the only true God, and that they must worship Him only and not bow down to statues and images.

2.17.34 ‘To this day they do after the former manner. They do not fear YHWH, nor do they do after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law or after the commandment which YHWH commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel,’

And the author points out that is spite of their nearness to Judah they still behave in this way. They have learned nothing from Judah. They do not truly fear YHWH, nor do they follow after the statutes, ordinances, law and commandment commanded by YHWH to the children of Jacob whom He named Israel, for they do not even know what they are.

2.17.35-36 ‘With whom YHWH had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them, but YHWH, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, him shall you fear, and to him shall you bow yourselves, and to him shall you sacrifice,” ’

And this is especially so of the first two commandments. For in those commandments YHWH had made a covenant with His people saying, ‘You shall not fear other gods, or bow down to them, or serve them, or sacrifice to them.’ The only One Whom they must fear, and to Whom they must bow down or sacrifice is ‘YHWH Who brought them out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm.’ Thus these new inhabitants of Samaria are failing on all counts.

2.17.37-39 “And the statutes and the ordinances, and the law and the commandment, which he wrote for you, you shall observe to do for ever more, and you shall not fear other gods, and the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods, but YHWH your God you shall fear, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.”

The prophetic author then applies the lesson to his readers. They too were to observe ‘for evermore’ the statutes, ordinances, law and commandment which He had made with them, and were not to fear other gods. Nor were they to forget the covenant that He had made with them. They were not to fear other gods, but were to fear YHWH alone. ‘YHWH your God you shall fear.’ And then they could be sure that He would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies. (The continual repetitions are typical of Hebrew style).

2.17.40 ‘However, they did not listen, but they did after their former manner.’

This could refer to Israel, but more probably refers to the newcomers simply because of the repetition of ‘their former manner’ (see verse 33).

2.17.41 ‘So these nations feared YHWH, and served their graven images, their children likewise, and their children’s children, as did their fathers, so do they to this day.’

The author then sums up the position by pointing out what the actual position was. They ‘feared YHWH and served their graven images’ in complete contradiction to the commandment of YHWH. And their children and their children’s children followed suit, right up to the writer’s day. Thus they never really came to know YHWH, or came within His covenant.

Return To Home Page For Further Interesting Articles

For Kings part 1 (1-4) click here

For Kings part 2 (5-8) click here

For Kings part 3 (9-11) click here

For Kings part 4 (12.1-16.28) click here

For Kings 5 (16.29-2.1.18) click here

For Kings 6 (2.1-8.15) click here

For Kings 7 (8.16-14.22) click here

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