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From The Decline Of The Two Kingdoms
CHAPTER 7 - UZZIAH (TENTH), JOTHAM (ELEVENTH), AND AHAS, (TWELFTH) KING OF JUDAH. ZACHARIAH (FIFTEENTH), SHALLUM (SIXTEENTH), MENAHEM (SEVENTEENTH), PEKAHIAH (EIGHTEENTH),PEKAH (NINETEENTH) KING OF ISRAEL
Accession and Murder of Zachariah - Accession and Death of Shallum - Accession of
Menahem - Taking and Back of Tiphsah - Accession and Victories of Pul or Tiglath-pileser
II. of Assyria - Tribute to Assyria - Accession and Murder of Pekahiah - Military
Revolution and Accession of Pekah - Aooession and Reign of Jotham in Judah -
Syro-lsraelitish League against Judah - Accession of Ahaz in Judah - Character of his
Reign - The new Idolatry - Changes in the Temple and its Worship.
WHILE the kingdom of Judah was enjoying a brief period of prosperity, that of Israel was rapidly nearing its final overthrow. The deep-seated and wide corruption in the land afforded facilities for a succession of revolutions, in which one or another political or military adventurer occupied the throne for a brief period. In the thirteen or fourteen years between the death of Jeroboam II. and that of Uzziah, the northern kingdom saw no less than four kings (2 Kings 15:8-27), of whom each was removed by violence. In the thirty-eighth year of Uzziah,* Jeroboam II was succeeded by his son Zachariah, the fourth and last monarch of the line of Jehu.
Holy Scripture here specially marks the fulfillment of Divine prediction (2 Kings 10:30), in the continuance of this dynasty "unto the fourth generation." Of his brief reign, which lasted only six months, we read that it was characterized by continuance in the sins of Jeroboam. A conspiracy by one Shallum,* not otherwise known, issued, not in the private assassination, but in the public** murder of the king.
So terribly had all bonds of society been loosened. The regicide occupied the throne for only one month. Menahem, whom Josephus* describes as the general of Zachariah, advanced** against Shallum from Tirzah,*** the ancient royal residence, and slew the usurper.
The assumption of the crown by Menahem seems to have met some resistance. At any rate, we read of an expedition of Menahem against a place called Tiphsah ("a ford"*), which had refused to open its gates to him. The town and its surrounding district were taken, and Menahem took horrible vengeance on the population.** The reign of Menahem, which, as regards religion, resembled that of his predecessors, lasted ten years. But it may truly be characterized as the beginning of the end. For with it commenced the acknowledged dependence of the northern kingdom upon Assyria, of which the ultimate outcome was the fall of Samaria and the deportation of Israel into the land of the conqueror.
Leaving aside, for reasons already indicated, questions of chronology, the Assyrian monuments enable us more clearly to understand the Biblical account of the relations between Menahem and his eastern suzerain (2 Kings 15:19, 20). Thus we learn that after a period of decadence which may account for the independent progress of Jeroboam II., perhaps even for the occupation of Tiphsah by Menahem, a military adventurer of the name of Pul, apparently sprung from the lower orders, seized the crown of Assyria, and assumed the title of Tiglath-pileser II.*
The first monarch of that name, five centuries earlier, had founded the power of Assyria, which was now to be re-established. In the very year of his accession he vanquished and impaled the king of Babylon, and henceforth himself assumed that title. Two years later he turned his armies to the west, and after a siege of three years took the Syrian city Arpad, in the neighborhood of Hamath, and not far from Damascus* (comp. Isaiah 10:9, 36:19; 2 Kings 18:34; Jeremiah 49:23).
Without following his further military expeditions it may suffice to state that three years later (in the eighth year of his reign), he is described on the monuments as receiving the tribute of Menahem of Israel, among those of other vassal kings. The shattering of the power of the Syrian confederacy and the occupation of Hamath fully explain the Biblical notice of the advance of Pul or Tiglath-pileser II. into the northern kingdom. His progress was for the time arrested by the submission of Menahem, and his payment of an annual tribute of 1,000 talents of silver, or about 375,000 pounds, which the king of Israel levied by a tax of 50 shekels, or about. 6 pounds 5 shillings. on all the wealthier inhabitants of his realm. This would imply that there were 60,000 contributors to this tax, a large figure, indicating at the same time the wide prosperity of the country, and the extent of the burden which the tribute must have laid on the people. On these hard conditions Menahem was "confirmed" in "the kingdom" by the Assyrian conqueror* Menahem was succeeded in the kingdom by his son Pekahiah, whose reign, of a character similar to that of his father,** lasted only two years. He fell the victim of another military conspiracy headed by Pekah, the son of Remaliah,*** probably one of the captains of the king's bodyguard.
As we interpret the narrative (2 Kings 15:25), the king of Israel had surrounded himself with a bodyguard, such as that which of old had been formed by King David. The name of Pekahiah's father: "Menahem, the son of Gadi" (2 Kings 15:17), seems to indicate that he was descended from the tribe of Gad. It is therefore the more likely that this bodyguard had been raised from among his countrymen the Gileadites - those brave highlanders on the other side of Jordan who were famed as warriors (comp. Judges 11:1; 1 Chronicles 26:31). Thus the LXX. - perhaps after an old tradition - render, instead of "the Gileadites" of the Hebrew text, the 400, which reminds us of David's famous 600 (2 Samuel 15:18). This bodyguard we suppose to have been under the command of three captains, one of whom was Pekah, the leader of the rebellion. The other two: "Argob," so named from the trans-Jordanic district of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:4), and "Arieh," "the lion" (comp. 1 Chronicles 12:8), fell, probably in defending the king. As we read it, Pekah, with fifty of the Gilead guard, pursued the king into the castle, or fortified part of his palace at Samaria, and there slew him and his adherents. The crime vividly illustrates the condition of public feeling and morals as described by the prophet Hosea (4:1, 2). The murderer of his master was not only allowed to seize the crown, but retained it during a period of thirty years.*
This revolution had taken place in the last (the fifty-second) year of Uzziah. He was succeeded in Judah by his son Jotham, in the second year of Pekah, the son of Remaliah. Jotham was twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne, and his reign is said to have extended over sixteen years. But whether this period is to be reckoned from his co-regency (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:21), or from his sole rule, it is impossible to determine. And in this may lie one of the reasons of the difficulties of this chronology.*
The reign of Jotham was prosperous, and only clouded towards its close. Both religiously and politically it was strictly a continuation of that of Uzziah, whose co-regent, or at least administrator, Jotham had been. According to the fuller account in the Book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 27.), Jotham maintained in his official capacity the worship of Jehovah in His Temple, wisely abstaining, however, from imitating his father's attempted intrusion into the functions of the priesthood. Among the people the former corrupt forms of religion were still continued, and had to be tolerated. Naturally this corruption would increase in the course of time. Among the undertakings of the former reign, the fortifications of Jerusalem, the inward defense of the country, and its trans-Jordanic enlargement, were carried forward. As regards the first of these, the wall which defended Ophel, the southern declivity of the Temple-mount, was further built.*
At the same time the sacred house itself was beautified by the rebuilding of the "higher" [or upper] gate on the north side of the Temple, where the terrace runs from which it derived its name. The "higher gate" opened from the "upper" [or inner] court - that of the priests - into the lower, which was that of the people (2 Kings 21:5; 23:12; 2 Chronicles 33:5). Each of these two courts was bounded by a wall. Probably the general ingress into the Temple was by the outer northern gate.* Thence the worshippers would pass through the lower, outer, or people's court to the second wall** that bounded the inner, upper, or priest's court, which extended around the Temple house.
Thus the worshippers, or at least those who brought sacrifices, would have to enter by this northern gate which Jotham rebuilt. As the inner or upper court lay on a higher level, we find that in the Temple of Ezekiel eight steps are said to lead up to it (Ezekiel 40:31, 34, 37), and such was probably also the case in the Temple of Solomon. Close to this "higher gate" - at the right hand, as you entered it - the chest for the collection of money for the Temple repairs had been placed by Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:9). Lastly, from its designation by Ezekiel (8:5), as "the gate of the altar," we infer that it formed the common access for those who offered sacrifices. Its later name of "new gate" was due to its reconstruction by Jotham, while the passages in which it is mentioned indicate that this was the place where the princes and priests were wont to communicate with the people assembled in the outer court (Jeremiah 26:10; 36:10).
Nor were the operations of Jotham confined to Jerusalem. "And cities he built in Mount Judah [the hill country], and in the forests [or thickets, where towns could not be built], castles [forts], and towns [no doubt for security]." To complete the record of that reign we add that the expedition of the previous reign against Ammon was resumed, and the Ammonites were forced to pay an annual tribute, not only of the produce of their fertile lands (10,000 Kor* of wheat and as many of barley), but of a hundred talents of silver, or about. 37,500 pounds.** But, as the sacred text implies (2 Chronicles 27:5), this tribute was only paid during three years.
In the fourth, probably the last year of Jotham's reign, it ceased, no doubt in consequence of the Syro-Israelitish league against Judah, which was apparently joined by the neighboring tribes who had hitherto been subject to Uzziah and Jotham. Lastly, of the internal condition of the country, of its prosperity, wealth, and commerce, but also of its luxury and its sins, a vivid picture has been left in those prophecies of warning judgment which form the opening chapters of the Book of Isaiah (chap. 1:5-6.).
Jotham himself only witnessed the approach of the calamities which were so soon to befall Judah. In the northern kingdom Pekah must have found himself in the midst of turbulent elements. Even if he had not to defend his crown against another pretender,* the disorganized condition of the country, the necessity of keeping the people engaged in undertakings that would divert them from domestic affairs, as well as the obvious desirableness of forming foreign alliances to support his throne - perhaps even more ambitious plans - must have made the thirty years** of this military usurper a period of sore trouble in Israel.
We catch only glimpses of it at the close of Jotham's reign. But our scanty information is to some extent supplemented by the Assyrian records. Holy Scripture simply informs us that "in those days Jehovah began to send against Judah Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah" (2 Kings 15:37).
It is a majestic and truly prophetic mode of viewing events, thus to recognize in such a league as that of Rezin and Pekah the divinely-appointed judgment upon Judah. It is to pass from the secondary and visible causes of an event straight to Him Who over-rules all, and Who with Divine skill weaves the threads that man has spun into the web and woof of His dealings. In point of fact, the Syro-Israelitish league against Judah ultimately embraced not only the Ammonites, who refused to continue their tribute, but also the Edomites, the Philistines, and all the southern tribes lately reduced to subjection (2 Chronicles 28:17, 18).
As already stated, Jotham only witnessed the commencement of this great struggle, or else he was sufficiently strong still to keep in check what at first were probably only marauding expeditions. It was otherwise when his weak and wicked son Ahaz ascended the throne, in the seventeenth year of Pekah, the son of Remaliah (2 Kings 16:1). He was probably twenty-five years of age* when he succeeded his father.
The sixteen years of his reign were in every sense most disastrous for Judah. As throughout this history, it is emphatically indicated that just as former successes had come from the help of the Lord, so now the real cause of Judah's reverses lay in their apostasy from God. From the first, and throughout, Ahaz "did not the right in the sight of the Lord." Nor should we omit to mark how the sacred text when describing each successive reign in Judah brings its religious character into comparison with that of David. This, not only because he was the founder of the dynasty, nor even because in him centered the Divine promise to the royal house of Judah, but from the strictly theocratic character of his public administration, which should have been the type for that of all his successors, even as Jeroboam's became that for the kings of Israel.
It is impossible to determine whether the varied idolatry described in 2 Chronicles 28:3, 4, characterized the beginning of Ahaz's reign, or was only gradually introduced during its course. More probably the latter was the case; and as the success of Syria was the avowed motive for introducing its gods into Judah, so that of Israel formed at least the pretext for walking "in the ways of the kings of Israel" (2 Chronicles 28:2). Indeed, there is not a single aspect from which the character of the king could have commanded either respect or sympathy. Unbelieving as regards the Lord and His power (Isaiah 7:11-13), he was nevertheless ready to adopt the most abject superstitions. By making "molten images for Baalim," he not only followed in the ways of the house of Ahab (1 Kings 16:32; 2 Kings 1:2; 3:2), but adopted the rites then practiced in Israel (Hosea 2:13; 13:1). Connected with these was the service of Moloch [or more correctly, Molech], who was only another form of Baal (comp. Jeremiah 19:3-6; 32:35). Alike, in the service of the one and the other, human sacrifices were offered: for which, indeed, Baal himself was supposed to have given a precedent.*
But this was to revive the old Canaanitish and Phoenician worship, with all its abominations and all its defilements. The valley of Gihon, which bounds Jerusalem on the west, descends at its southern extremity into that of Hinnom, which in turn joins at the ancient royal gardens the valley of Kidron, that runs along the eastern declivity of the Holy City. There, at the junction of the valleys of Hinnom and Kidron, in these gardens, was Topheth - " the spitting out," or place of abomination - where an Ahaz, a Manasseh, and an Amon, sacrificed their sons and daughters to Baal-Moloch, and burnt incense to foul idols. Truly was Hinnom "moaning,"* and rightly was its name Gehinnom [valley of Hinnom - Gehenna], adopted as that for the place of final suffering.
And it is one of those strange coincidences that the hill which rises on the south side of this spot was that "potter's field," the "field of blood," which Judas bought with the wages of his betrayal, and where with his own, hands he executed judgment on himself. History is full of such coincidences, as men call them; nor can we forget in this connection that it was on the boundary-line between the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz that Rome was founded (in 752 B.C.), which was destined to execute final judgment on apostate Israel.
Nor was this all. Not only did Ahaz burn incense in that accursed place where he offered his own son* as a burnt sacrifice to Baal-Moloch, but a similar idolatrous worship was offered on the high places,** on the hills, and under every green tree (2 Chronicles 28:4; 2 Kings 16:4).
Thus, in regard to form - the many sanctuaries in opposition to the one place of worship - as well as to substance and spirit, there was direct contrariety to the institutions of the Old Testament. Indeed, it may not be without use here to mark that in the surroundings of Israel, exclusive unity of worship in one central temple, as against many sanctuaries, was absolutely necessary if a pure monotheism was to be preserved and the introduction of heathen rites to be avoided.
But the idolatry introduced by Ahaz was to be carried to all its sequences. A despotic edict of the king, while at Damascus, in singular contrast to the weakness displayed towards his foreign enemies, ordered a new altar for the Temple after the pattern sent to Jerusalem of one, no doubt devoted to an Assyrian deity, which he had seen in Damascus and approved. He was obeyed by a servile high-priest. When Ahaz returned to his capital sacrifices were offered by him on the new altar,* probably thankofferings for his safe arrival.
This was only the beginning of other changes. It seems not unlikely that the king introduced in connection with the new altar the worship of the gods of Damascus (2 Chronicles 28:23, in connection with ver. 24). Certain it is that an exclusive place was assigned to it. Apparently Urijah, the priest, had originally set it at the rear of the old altar of burnt-offering, which stood "before the Lord," that is, "before the house," in other words, fronting the entrance into the sanctuary. But as this would have indicated the inferiority of the new altar, the king, on his return from Damascus, brought the two altars into juxtaposition.* In the words of the sacred text (2 Kings 16:14): "And the altar, the brazen [one]** a which [was] before Jehovah he brought near [placed in juxtaposition], from before the house [the sanctuary], from between the altar [the new Damascus altar] and the house of Jehovah, and he put it at the side of the altar [the new Damascus altar], northwards."
The meaning of this is that the brazen altar, which had hitherto faced the entrance to the sanctuary, eastwards, was now removed to the north side of the new altar, so that the latter became the principal, nay, the sole sacrificial altar. Accordingly, by command of the king, all sacrificial worship* was now celebrated at this new heathen altar, the disposal of the old altar being left for further consideration.**
The new place of sacrifice rendered other changes in the Temple furniture almost necessary. The old altar of burnt-offering was ten cubits, or about fifteen feet high (2 Chronicles 4:1). Hence there was an ascent to it, and a circuit around, on which the ministering priests stood. As the pieces of the sacrifice laid on the altar had to be washed, the "ten lavers of brass" for this purpose, which surrounded the altar, were placed on high "bases" or rather stands, so that the officiating priests could wash the sacrificial pieces without coming down from the circuit of the altar. The side pieces which formed the body of these stands were of brass, richly ornamented alternately with figures of lions and oxen with wreaths underneath them, and cherubim (comp. 1 Kings 7:27-40). For the new altar such high stands were no longer required, and accordingly Ahaz "broke away the sidepieces of the stands" [A. V. "cut off the borders of the bases"]. Similarly he lowered "the sea," by removing it from the pedestal of the "brazen oxen," and placing it on "a base* of stone." Possibly the king may also have been influenced by a desire to make other use of these valuable pieces of Temple furniture than that for which they had been originally designed. At any rate they remained in the Temple till a later period (comp. Jeremiah 52:17-20).
It is more difficult to understand the import of the changes which King Ahaz made "on account of the king of Assyria" in "the covered Sabbath place," and "the entrance of the king, the outer one" (2 Kings 16:18). In our ignorance of the precise purpose or locality of these we can only offer such suggestions as seem in accordance with the language of the original. We conjecture that "the covered Sabbath place," or stand, "which they had built" - viz., since Solomonic times - was probably a place opening into the inner or priest's court, occupied by the king and his court when attending the services on Sabbaths and feast days. Connected with it would be a private "entrance" to this stand from, or through, the "outer" court (comp. Ezekiel 46:1, 2). We further conjecture that in view of a possible visit of, or in deference to, the king of Assyria, Ahaz now "turned the covered Sabbath place and the entrance of the king, the outer one, to the house of Jehovah," that is, that he removed both into the sanctuary itself, probably within the porch. We regard it as a further part of these alterations when, in 2 Chronicles 28:24, by the side of the notice, that Ahaz "broke up the vessels of the house of God," we find it stated that he "shut up the doors of the house of Jehovah." This implies that the services within the Holy Place were now wholly discontinued. Thus the worship would be confined to the sacrificial services at the new altar; while the transference into the Temple porch of the king's stand and of the entry to it, would not only bring them close to the new altar, but also assign to them a more prominent and elevated position than that previously occupied. We can readily understand that all such changes in the worship of Judah, and the pre-eminent position in it assigned to the king, would be in accordance with the views, the practice, and the wishes of the king of Assyria, however contrary to the spirit and the institutions of the Mosaic law.
After this we do not wonder to read that Ahaz "made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem," nor yet that "in every several city of Judah he made high places [bamoth] to burn incense unto other gods" (2 Chronicles 28:24, 25). What influence all this must have had on a people already given to idolatry will readily be perceived. Indeed, Holy Scripture only gives us a general indication of the baneful changes made in the public religious institutions of the country. Of the king's private bearing in this respect, we only catch occasional glimpses, such, for example, as in the significant later reference to "the altars" which he had reared "on the roof" of the Aliyah* or "upper chamber" in the Temple, no doubt for the Assyrian worship of the stars (Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5).
Yeshua is the Messiah!