OT History Part 9: Divided Monarchy -- 931-722 BC

Table of Contents

Chapter 9.1: Messages from God

God proves He is slow to wrath, in giving both Rehoboam and Jeroboam chances to repent. Rehoboam's sin is less, so his reign was simply shortened and he lost a lot of wealth. Jeroboam was evil to the end and destroyed Israel in the long run.

2 Chronicles 11:5-17 -- Rehoboam built up fortifications, somewhat a continuation of his father's work. In all the cities he fortified, he added garrisons of troops, plenty of food stores to withstand a siege and a stockpile of weapons. Judah was also strengthened by the arrival of all the Levites, who left behind their holdings in Israel. For a few years, their presence gave Judah a heart to worship God, which protected them from wrath.

11:18-23 -- Rehoboam took somewhat fewer wives and concubines than his father. Of 18 wives, three were fairly close relatives. He also had sixty concubines and altogether 28 sons and 60 daughters. His chosen heir was Abijah (Abiyahuw: "Worships Jehovah"), born from his favorite, Maacah, a granddaughter of Absalom. The one smart thing he did was disperse his sons around the realm in his fortified cities. He made sure they lived a lavish lifestyle. Not only did this increase the likelihood of having a survivor in case of war, but would prevent the sort of conniving that plagued his grandfather.

12:1-4 -- Once everything was set, Rehoboam also turned from God. As punishment, the Pharaoh Shishak came up from Egypt in 925 BC, bringing a massive army that included allies from other African nations. After successfully taking every fortified city on the way, Shishak laid siege to Jerusalem. This story is paralleled in 1 Kings 14:21-31.

12:5-8 -- The prophet Shemiah, who had warned Rehoboam about going to war with Israel against Jeroboam's revolt, came and told the royal court this siege was punishment for defying God's law. They responded by humbling themselves and calling on God, confessing their sins. The Lord was impressed. He allowed them to buy off Shishak. The word of the Lord was that they should experience serving other kings and realize the difference between that and serving Him.

12:9-12 -- Shishak took all the royal treasures. This included the golden shields, probably the ivory throne and most everything else that was loose. Worse, they gave him all the treasures in the Temple, too. The gold shields, a real point of royal pride, were replaced with bronze ones. These were brought out on parade by the royal bodyguard whenever Rehoboam went to the Temple. For a time, he was rather faithful about it. Things went pretty smooth for Judah after that.

12:13-16 -- We are offered a quick review of Rehoboam's reign. He took the throne at age 41, lasted 17 years, which has him buried at 58. The scribe her introduces the tradition of judging each ruler based on how well he obeyed the Lord. Here, Rehoboam is labeled evil for not really having a heart for God. He was faithful only when things got rough. He was succeeded by his intended heir, Abijah.

1 Kings 13:1-10 -- On a day when Jeroboam was in the temple he built in Bethel, quite likely near the end of Rehoboam's reign, he was standing before a crowd of people. As he prepared to offer incense as a symbol of prayer, he received a strange visit. The visit was from God, but was hardly welcome. A prophet sent up from Judah entered the Temple. Just as Jeroboam was about to place incense on the altar, the prophet cried out, speaking to the altar.

His warning was that Jehovah would raise up a man named Josiah (Yoshiyah: "Founded by God") of the House of David. This man would desecrate the altar by burning on it the bodies of the priests Jeroboam had consecrated. The sign that it would indeed happen was the altar in question would split apart and dump its sacred ashes on the ground.

Jeroboam was enraged and pointed to the man demanding his guards arrest him. Barely had the words escaped his mouth when his hand and part of his arm was paralyzed. He was unable to pull his hand back. At the same time, the altar split and broke open, dumping its ashes on the floor. At this point, Jeroboam realized he was in trouble. He also realized the visitor was truly from God, so begged him to intercede with God on behalf of his arm. After praying a bit, Jeroboam got his arm back.

Relieved, Jeroboam offered to reward the man from his personal wealth and invited him home for a meal. The prophet refused, citing a strong warning he had from the Lord to eat or drink nothing, nor even go back the same way to Judah. Had the prophet accepted, it would have blunted Jeroboam's fear of God and might indicate the final punishment had been somewhat lessened or averted. The prophet's refusal was a blunt statement this was not so. The Lord had ordained these things and there was no going back. It was too late of Jeroboam and his house. Everyone attending this worship service knew what it meant.

13:11-22 -- Among those in attendance at this worship were the sons of an aged prophet there in Bethel. His sons came home bursting with the miraculous encounter. The visitor's path away from there was well known and they told their father which road he had taken. The old prophet wanted to fellowship with this very real man of God, but was too old to catch him on foot. He had his sons saddle a donkey for him and took off after the visitor. The old prophet caught up with the younger resting in the shade of an oak. He invited the stranger home with him, but the younger man begged off reciting his command from God. We don't know what the elder had in mind when he lied, but he told the young prophet an angel had instructed him to countermand those orders from God. The younger prophet believed it. While they sat at their meal, the elder prophet was seized by a word from God, warning the younger he would die for disobedience.

13:23-32 -- Finishing his meal, the elder saddled a donkey for his guest. The young prophet had not gotten far when a lion pounced on him and killed him. This was clearly a miracle, for the lion simply stood next to the corpse. It did not tear the man's body, nor attack the donkey, which stood placidly by the two. Some travelers saw this scene and told of it in the town. The old prophet heard about it and went out to see for himself. He knew what it was about and had his sons saddle his donkey again. He mounted the body on his other donkey and brought both back to his home, where he buried the young prophet. He was deeply sorrowful for the part he played in all this and ordered his sons to bury him with the young prophet when the time came.

This story grates on Western sensibilities, causing some to question whether it should be included in Scripture. Yet, could we possess an Ancient Hebrew sense of humor, this tale would be perfectly sensible. Not all prophets were alike, nor should we attempt to limit in our minds how God can call and use them. In a context where our sense of purity and intellectual orthodoxy simply didn't exist and would be regarded with distaste by the best of God's prophets, the burden is on us to yield to ancient sensibilities. The Judean was young and inexperienced. More importantly, he was called to die and carried a sense of fatalism common among Old Testament prophets. It is quite likely the sons of the elder prophet (an ambiguous term including servants and disciples) attended the paganized ceremony simply to observe, perhaps even expecting something unusual. It's too easy to miss the point: Both Jeroboam and the young prophet had a clear command from God. It was irrevocable and only a liar would seek to change it. Just as surely as the young prophet died for defying the command of the Lord, so Jeroboam would surely have no excuse for his rebellion.

13:33-34 -- Jeroboam was not impressed by this lesson. He persisted in his evil, adding more priests to his collection. He even went so far as having himself anointed as priest. He brought the sentence of death to his whole kingdom.

Chapter 9.2: Judgment on Jeroboam

God's prophet gives a more precise description of judgment on the House of Jeroboam. Israel suffers severe losses in battle with Judah.

1 Kings 14:1-4 -- Within days of the lesson from the young prophet from Judah, Jeroboam's son fell ill. It seems he liked the name Abijah for his son, as had Rehoboam. He knew this charade of his false religion would not help him at all. He sought to get in touch with the prophet who had told him God's plan to raise him to rule over Israel. Sending his wife, he convinced her to go in disguise to inquire of the prophet Ahijah. He also had her take a significant offering, as was the custom when noblemen inquired of prophets. Her effort at disguise was wasted for two reasons. First, Ahijah was blind.

14:5-16 -- The other reason her disguise was wasted was the Lord told Ahijah what was going on. When she arrived, Ahijah called her by name, and rebuked her ruse. His message to her was harsh. Jeroboam had been raised up by God Himself, to reign for Him over Israel. Jeroboam refused to obey the clear command from God and sinned far worse than the man whose sin brought about Jeroboam's reign. Jeroboam was to be a one-man dynasty, as no male from his household, slave or free, would long survive him.

Jeroboam's wife would return home. When her feet crossed the threshold of the city, their son would die. He would be buried properly, as he found favor with God. Yet on this very day, God would prepare a usurper to slaughter the entire house of Jeroboam. All their bodies would feed carrion eaters. Further, the nation of Israel would one day be scattered in exile beyond the Euphrates. This was because Jeroboam made Israel to sin.

14:17-20 -- Some time during his reign, Jeroboam had moved his throne to Tirzah, several miles north and east of Shechem. This was the city of which his wife entered the gates at the death of their son. There was an appropriate funeral for him, with elders and officials from across the kingdom mourning for him. He was the only male of the household to receive such honor. The writer leaves the story there and we shift to Chronicles for the last tale of Jeroboam.

2 Chronicles 13:1-12 -- We introduced to the brief reign of Rehoboam's son, Abijah, 913-910 BC. In 1 Kings 15:1-8 we learn he was no better than his father, walking in the same sins. Both had permitted a recovery of the nasty practice of male homosexual prostitutes ("dogs") in pagan temples. His entire reign was absorbed in war with his neighbor Jeroboam to the north.

Abijah was able to muster 400,000 troops. Jeroboam was able to double that. In one particular battle, Abijah advanced into the north, to an area that was originally the north edge of Benjamin. From his position on a hilltop, he addressed his enemy. In his speech, he conveniently forgot that God had taken away the north and given it to Jeroboam. Abijah told the story as one of simple rebellion against God by rebelling against the House of David. He referred to the golden bulls and the Levites driven out of Israel. He notes that any man who can get hold of a bull and seven rams can become a priest. This compared to the Levites following the Law of Moses in the Temple. Thus, he invokes the name of Jehovah as their general in battle and the northern tribes as in rebellion against Him. That much was true.

13:13-20 -- Meanwhile, Jeroboam's troops set up an ambush behind Judah's position. With double the number of troops, either half, one in front and one behind, was an equal match. In response, the army of Judah called out to God, even sounding the Levitical shofar trumpets. This fired up their courage and men of Judah gave an ear-splitting yell as they prepared to charge. The Lord used this sound to put fear in the men of Israel and they fled. Most the Jeroboam's troops were cut down. The loss was staggering. Judah managed to capture Bethel, a major sore spot with its rival temple, as well as Jeshanah and Ephron. Jeroboam never recovered enough to fight Judah again. His death is described as being struck by God. Whether by sword or by beast, Jeroboam died and was not laid to rest.

13:21-22 -- The rest of the story describes how Abijah still broke Moses' command regarding multiple wives, but not quite so many as his father. He took 14 wives and between them they bore him 22 sons and 16 daughters.

Chapter 9.3: Good King Asa

As we seek to follow the twin threads of monarchy in Israel and Judah, it is difficult to give a fully chronological account. The focus of those writing both Kings and Chronicles is to relate the actions of one man at a time and mention his opposite only when they cross paths. Asa succeeds Abijah as King of Judah one year before Jeroboam dies. Asa's father reigned but three years in large part because of his continuing the sins of his predecessors. Asa rejected those ways and followed the Lord, at least for awhile. We take our text primarily from 2 Chronicles, with the parallel in 1 Kings 15.

2 Chronicles 14:1-8 -- We are told that Abijah passed and Asa succeeded him in about 911 BC, with first a decade of quiet. Recall that his father had already crushed Israel and his grandfather had bought off Pharaoh. One of his first royal acts was to remove the pagan shrines in his realm. By this time, the shrines consisted of a carved stone image of Baal and a carved wooden image of Astarte. They were worshiped primarily as general fertility deities. There would be incense stands in front of each. However, we know that his prohibition was not wholly effective in stopping the pagan practices. Nonetheless, the Lord honored his intent and kept enemies at bay. Taking advantage of this peace, Asa rebuilt the fortress cities of Judah. The total manpower pool of fighters was 300,000 from Judah and 280,000 from Benjamin. The latter included those who defected from Israel.

14:9-15 -- His first test of faith was the arrival of a massive army of Ethiopians, probably under the rule of Pharaoh. Typically, the count of "a thousand thousand" was a round number indicating a force far outnumbering the army of Judah. Asa met them at Mareshah. This city stood on a hill overlooking the one primary pass between the Philistine Plain and the Hill Country of Judah. The city sits a few miles north of a line drawn between Gaza and Hebron. There Asa called on the Lord to give victory. His public prayer in the presence of his troops included a confession that it mattered not at all what the opposing army was, Jehovah was not much troubled delivering them into the hands of His people.

God heard and granted Asa's request. The Ethiopians were so badly routed the Egyptian Empire did not return to bother Israel for another 170 years. The pursuit continued as far as Gerar, roughly 20 miles. Since it was the Philistines who helped supply this massive force and gave them safe passage to Judah, Asa's forces captured Gerar and all the cities around it. Not just the spoils abandoned by the Ethiopians, but huge amounts were taken from the Philistines around Gerar. The text indicates the Philistines capitulated quickly rather than fight, so great was their fear.

15:1-7 -- We know nothing of Azariah save his brief appearance here. The meeting was shortly after the successful battle at Mareshah, thus about 900 BC. The prophet noted there had not been a teaching priest on the mold of Samuel, so the knowledge of God and the Law had languished. Yet He remained available to those who called on Him. Still, there was no peace. Asa was encouraged to continue the work of God and his reward would be great.

15:8-15 -- With this behind him, he spent the next five years reinforcing his previous command to end pagan worship in the land. All the more so did he enforce this in the cities captured from Israel. He refurbished the altar in the Temple Court. Seeing all this power and holiness, a large number from Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as the resident Simeonites, came to support Asa. At the end of this five-year revival, the elders of the kingdom brought a large collection of offerings, including some of the plundered animals from their victory over Ethiopia and renewed their vow of covenant obedience before the Lord.

15:16-19 -- In keeping with this commitment, Asa removed his mother Maacah from her position as Queen Mother because she had purchased an obscene image of Ashterah. He destroyed the image in a public ritual in the valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Unfortunately, the people insisted on rebuilding their hilltop shrines behind his back in the north. Finally, he replenished the furnishings of the Temple. The peace that followed lasted twenty years, until his 35th.

15:25-33 -- We drop back to Kings for a moment to pick up the thread of events in Israel. In Asa's first year, Jeroboam was struck down by God. His son, Nadab took the throne, just as evil as his father. He had powerful ambitions and began by laying siege to the Philistine city of Gibbethon, which was very close to the fortress Solomon received as a wedding present from a Pharaoh of a previous dynasty in Egypt. This was under way during Nadab's second year on the throne. While thus engaged, one of his lieutenants from the Tribe of Issachar, Baasha, murdered him and took the throne. He then proceeded to murder the entire House of Jeroboam, as prophesied. This was about 909 BC. Baasha reigned some 24 years. During this entire time, he maintained hostilities with Asa.

2 Chronicles 16:1-6 -- At one point, this hostility lead to an attempt to fortify Ramah, in Benjamin, not the old home town of Samuel the Prophet. This was about 875 BC. No doubt he was stirred to action by the defection to Asa of so many of his subjects. It is believed he managed to retake Bethel at this point. Fortifying Ramah would have been the first of a string of fortifications just a few miles north of Jerusalem.

At that time, Damascus was an ally of Israel. We recall that Rezon (also called Hezion) was a rebel against Solomon, taking over Damascus and creating trouble (1 Kings 11:23f). At some point, his son Tabrimon made amends with the House of David during the reign of Abijah. However, the current ruler of Damascus, Ben-hadad was in league with Baasha. When Baasha began work on fortifying Ramah, Asa forgot the Lord and traded his former piety for politics. He raided the Temple treasury, along with his own personal treasure and induced Ben-hadad to turn on Baasha. He was successful in his aim, as the troops of Damascus began raiding in Galilee, starting with Ijon in the far north, then Dan and Abel-maacha, along with all the storage cities that Solomon had developed under the advice of Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 9:10ff). Baasha was forced to withdraw from Judah's border and defend his northern border. When Ramah was deserted, Asa commanded every available man to go and remove all the building materials Baasha had left. These materials were then used to fortify Geba to the east of Raman and Mizpah to the northwest.

16:7-10 -- We are introduced to the family of seers now headed by Hanani. His son would become Court Seer to Asa's son. He announces to Asa that, had he relied on God instead of man, he would have defeated both Israel and Damascus. Instead, Damascus remained a future threat. Any king that could be bought off by one was surely for sale to another. Hanani reminded Asa that Ethiopia was a far bigger threat, but the Lord handled them easily. The principle is stated that Jehovah was constantly on the watch for opportunities to support those faithful to Him. The punishment would be no end of warfare during Asa's remaining years. Asa put this messenger of God in prison. His change in attitude from his former days is further exemplified by selectively oppressing some of his own people at that time.

16:11-14 -- During his 39th year, Asa began having serious trouble with his feet. Speculation includes the possibility of diabetes causing poor circulation and gangrene. Rather than seek the Lord, Asa went to pagan healers. He suffered thus another two years, and then died. He was buried in the royal tomb and his funeral service included the burning of a lot of incense, as well as quite a bit mixed to anoint his body.

Chapter 9.4: Asa's Counterparts

During Asa's long and prosperous reign of 41 years (911-870 BC), things were not so peachy in Israel. We have already mentioned how Jeroboam's dynasty hardly outlasted him, with his son Nadab murdered after only two years. However, Baasha was hardly any better.

1 Kings 16:1-7 -- The prophet Jehu was a busy man and appears more than once in our story. In 887 BC, after Baasha was forced to defend Galilee from the turncoat, Ben-hadad of Syria, Jehu came to see him. Having continued the sins of Jeroboam, Baasha was to reap the same ignoble end. There would be no heirs to the throne from that household ruling long.

16:8-14 -- Elah managed to survive two years. It is fair to assume that this one story finds him doing his usual thing. He sat in the house of his chamberlain, Arza, roaring drunk. While thus indisposed, one of his two cavalry commanders came in and murdered him. It appears Elah used the cavalry as his bodyguard, because the army was off in battle. Arza was probably in on the plan and arranged the party as a set up. The assailant's name was Zimri and his first royal command after usurping the throne was to kill all the surviving males of Baasha's household, along with many of their political supporters. The writer notes this is just recompense for the sins of that family.

16:15-20 -- Zimri lasted a week. His messengers declared his assumption of the throne, as was the custom. It took half of that week for them to catch up with the troops of Israel, again besieging Gibbethon of the Philistines. Recall that a siege was often a relaxed affair at least part of the time. It was simply a matter of keeping the inhabitants of the city surrounded until they starved or decided to fight, all the while staying out of range of wall-top archers. How long it took depended on how well the city was stocked and whether the residents had access to water. The Israeli troops, when they got the news, decided to challenge Zimri by making their commander, Omri, the king instead. They left off the siege of Gibbethon and marched back to Tirzah. In about three days, the army had moved siege operations to their own capital. It's not likely the job was all that hard, since most of the nation's troops were outside attacking, rather than inside defending. The city fell probably the same day and Zimri decided not to face his opposition. Entering the fort that served as his castle, he burned it down around himself. Again, we note this was a just end for his sins.

16:21-28 -- While the troops were already promoting Omri as king, it seems the rest of the nation preferred a man named Tibni. The civil war between the two parties lasted five years, but in the about 880 BC, Omri prevailed and Tibni was killed. Shortly after he secured his throne, Omri decided to quit the ruined palace of Tirzah and purchased a hill about 10 miles (16km) to the west. Thus, echoing David's purchase of land in Jerusalem, it was a personal possession. The location was very strategic, straddling a major trade route. He built his new capital there and named it Samaria, after the previous land owner, Shemer. Omri's reign lasted another seven years and was even worse than Jeroboam's, because he intensified the sins of idolatry. However, he managed to make his name known beyond the Euphrates, for the city and nation were known ever after by his name in that region. Thus, he should be regarded as an evil, but otherwise capable, ruler.

16:29-34 -- About the time Asa began to suffer in his feet, Omri's son, Ahab, succeeded to the throne of Israel. He was by far the most evil of the Kings of Israel up to this time. Besides the pagan temples, numerous shrines, male and female temple prostitutes and so forth, Ahab was married to the daughter of a singularly satanic man. By this time, Hiram of Tyre was long gone and ruling in the other great city of Phoenicia was Ethbaal of Sidon. This man had resurrected the awful practices of Molech. The god of Sidon was named Melkarth and he required children burned alive on his altar. His daughter, Princess Jezebel, was also a high priestess of this despicable religion. In marrying her, Ahab gave the worship of Melkarth a central place in Israel. Ahab dedicated a new temple to this Baal in his capital. Satan's power was so pervasive that all manner of strange things came about. For example, in defiance of the curse laid by Joshua on Jericho, someone from Bethel rebuilt that ancient city. His name was Hiel; as prophesied, his eldest died in laying the foundation and his youngest in erecting the gates. While not clearly stated, it is hinted he may have offered his sons for sacrifice at those events, fulfilling the curse voluntarily -- all the more evil. We note the Omride dynasty is marked with lavish building programs throughout the kingdom.

2 Chronicles 17:1-6 -- In 873 BC, one year before Ahab became king, Asa was succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat. Thus, he begins to rule before his father died, according to this account. We should envision him gradually taking up his duties during co-regency with his ailing father. His first order of business was to reinforce all the fort cities of Judah, particularly the cities taken from Israel. Since he was a man after God's heart, like David in his early years, the Lord insured this was not wasted effort. Jehoshaphat was so in love with the Lord that he aggressively removed all the pagan shrines still standing.

17:7-19 -- To further his efforts to revive holiness in the land, he sent out several court officers, along with an entourage of teaching Levites and priests. Their mission was to hold teaching sessions on the Law of Moses, copies of which they carried with them. As a consequence, the Lord brought fear on the bordering nations. Even the Philistines brought tribute out of fear of Jehoshaphat. In many ways, it was indeed a return to the early Davidic rule. The revival of faithfulness brought with it a revival of exemplary military leadership. The fame of his commanders warranted recording their names for posterity, just as in David's time. Jehoshaphat's combined regional forces numbered 780,000 in Judah and 380,000 in Benjamin. This would include every man available for conscription in wartime. Meanwhile, Jehoshaphat became gloriously wealthy himself.

We stop for a moment to note from outside sources several important events. Omri was evil, but highly intelligent. He made a strong alliance with Phoenicia by marrying their princess to his son. This assured a perfect market for Israel's agricultural products, since the Phoenicians grew little. This alliance gave Israel a strong position to discourage Damascus from any further adventures in Galilee or Gilead. Ahab continued this shrewd policy of peaceful alliances by coming to terms with Judah, eventually.

During this time frame, Aramaean Assyria rose to great power under Ashurbanipal. Just a few decades prior, the Assyrians had managed to finally break the remnants of the second Hittite Empire. For the previous five centuries, these Aramaeans had been terrorizing the Mesopotamian Valley, with their harsh tactics and even harsher treatment of fallen foes. Even those who capitulated were humiliated. Having taken from the Hittites their one advantage -- iron weapons -- they had a far better political organization. They were more warlike than any previous people in that part of the world; violence was a social virtue for them. Yet their society internally was quite orderly. It was they who began requiring women to stay inside the home out of public view, allowing them out in public only with when veiled. Here, too, was one of the first great libraries of ancient times, with the imperial court funding a massive project of collecting and translating cuneiform clay tablets from all over the region.

Ashurbanipal II (883-848 BC) carried expansion farther. During his reign, his troops crossed the Euphrates and took over some Syrian city-states, including Hamath and parts of Zobah, reaching to shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Ashurbanipal had his eye on Damascus. This looming threat is the background for what follows.

Chapter 9.5: Elijah and the Drought

1 Kings 17:1-7 -- About halfway through Ahab's reign (c. 868 BC), we are introduced to the Prophet Elijah. Ahab tended to view Jehovah through political eyes. Not to deny He was real, or deny He had power, but serving Him would be submitting to the primacy of Judah and the House of David. He sought to bring his nation under Melkarth, god of a neighboring country, but referred to in the text by the generic title of Baal. Jehovah might not like it, but Melkarth would take care of it. The idea of a single, true God without peer was just too foreign to human imagination in those times. The message of Elijah was departing from the rule of Jehovah was not an option. By speaking to Ahab in the name of the Lord (literally "Jehovah"), his prophecy would indicate God could not be so easily dismissed.

This Elijah ("My God is Jehovah") hailed from Tishbe, a town in Gilead on a wadi upstream from Jabesh-gilead. As near as we can tell, this wadi was the Brook Cherith. His message to Ahab was that there would be a drought. This was a direct attack on the supposed primary sphere of authority held by Melkarth, as with every pagan Baal in Canaan, reputed to be gods of the storms and weather in general. Further, the drought would end only at the word of Elijah. In effect, Ahab would find no relief without humbling himself before Jehovah and dealing with His prophet. Elijah was then commanded to make himself scarce, by camping in the Cherith Valley, away from any human settlements. He would find sufficient water there and ravens would drop food to him that they had scavenged. They did this in the morning and evening when birds would be most active during a dry season. In due time the sources of the brook dried up.

17:8-16 -- Now that the drought had taken hold, Elijah was at risk for the crime of cursing the King, of inciting a deity against the nation. Jehovah commanded Elijah to flee Ahab's jurisdiction. He was to take refuge in the land of the god he had challenged directly, Melkarth of Sidon. Zarephath was on the Phoenician coast roughly midway between Tyre and Sidon. God had appointed a widow there to provide for his maintenance. Upon approaching the city, Elijah spotted the woman. We don't know the specifics, but something in the situation made clear by custom she was a widow. Quite likely it was the activity itself of gathering bits of firewood that had fallen from the loads passing into the city. Only a desperate widow would do this.

Elijah's request for a drink was quite according to custom. The well would be near the gate of most cities and women only would be sent to draw water. They were expected to show hospitality to a stranger by fulfilling a request for a drink. Turning him down would be a scandalous insult to the town and she would risk social, if not official, sanctions. She was under no obligation to provide more than the water he could drink at one sitting, but it was common courtesy to respond to reasonable requests. Elijah asked for what amounts to half of a pita disk. His clothing, manner and speech identified him as Israeli and probably as a prophet. Her reply was prefaced by an oath upon his God that she spoke the truth: The sticks she had gathered were for he last meal to share with her son. There were no leftovers in her home. Elijah replied that his God was prepared to meet all their needs for the duration of the drought if she would act in faith. As an offering to the Lord, she was to give Elijah the first portion of this last meal. She obeyed and we are immediately told God kept His promise. There could be no natural explanation for the unending supply during the several years this lasted. Elijah's ministry was marked by miracles and this was just one more.

17:17-24 -- The woman agreed to host Elijah, treating him with the honor of a genuine prophet. There were many superstitions tied to dealing with prophets. When her son fell ill, she surmised that Elijah's presence was God's plan to make her aware of her sin. Many regarded sickness as a visitation of judgment. His response was to show this had nothing to with sin, but to settle her doubts. The boy was dead. Acting in full faith, Elijah persisted in calling on God until the boy was resuscitated. When he brought the boy alive down from his loft, the woman's doubts vanished forever.

People of Western sensibilities may think this sounds like terrorism, but God is not a Western intellectual construct. In His revelation, life and death on this fallen plane are merely circumstances. Painful in passing and sorrowful to those left alive, but life itself is one big lie. God Himself is in the business of preserving truth in revelation; preserving our pitiful human existence is merely incidental, as it should be in our minds.

18:1-6 -- After three years of this, the Lord directed Elijah to present himself to King Ahab. By this time the land had been stripped of all edible vegetation. Ahab didn't trust anyone to be honest, so determined to conduct a search himself, with the help of his chamberlain, Obadiah. This Obadiah happened to share none of Ahab's religious inclinations and had remained faithful to Jehovah, though secretly. Using his personal wealth and influence, he managed to rescue a hundred prophets of the Lord from an order of execution from Queen Jezebel. Obadiah divided them between two caves and fed them the minimum of bread and water, which was more than many had in those days. Ahab's plan in this search was to avoid having to put down any royal livestock. By searching all the likely places for grass, he hoped to find emergency fodder. Unspoken is the assurance Ahab would willingly confiscate any available forage for this personal needs. As always, important men traveled in the company of slaves and servants. These two would have personally led a search party to insure bribing the searchers was impossible. Likely Ahab went south and east from Samaria, while Obadiah went north and west.

18:7-16 -- Thus, of the two, Obadiah was first to encounter the returning Prophet Elijah. The context indicates the king and his chamberlain had scarcely parted company when Elijah appeared, placing this scene very near Samaria. As befitting a man faithful to Jehovah, Obadiah bowed to the Prophet of the Lord. Falling on his face was an unspoken appeal to Elijah to deal mercifully with him. Just meeting him without reporting it to Ahab would be a capital crime. His question to Elijah was a bit like asking if he should forget meeting him. Instead, Elijah told him to abort the search for pasturage, as there was more important business at hand. Obadiah's fear was palpable. Ahab had been rather forceful with neighboring rulers in demanding Elijah be arrested and extradited if found in their lands. He required they invoke a curse on themselves if they lied about hiding him. Most likely it was this failed search that irritated Jezebel sufficiently that she vented her wrath on all of Elijah's associates. Elijah was famous for his ability to travel quickly and without notice. Tradition says he was a consummate runner, easily the equal of modern marathoners. Obadiah politely stated his fear Elijah was playing games by suggesting that if he went to fetch Ahab here to meet Elijah, God might by then have moved the prophet somewhere else. Obadiah asked whether his faithfulness to God was in vain, appealing to Elijah as a fellow servant of Jehovah not to play games with his life. Elijah's response was an oath of assurance that this very day he intended to meet Ahab at that spot. Obadiah obediently set out to catch up with his master.

18:17-19 -- Ahab confronted the prophet, calling him a threat to the nation. In Ahab's mind, this prophet had used his power to invoke Jehovah's wrath. Gods in ancient times were considered easily provoked. It was believed they would respond to anyone employing the proper rituals, but seldom acted on their own initiative. Elijah corrected him by stating flatly that the Omride rejection of Jehovah was the problem. He issued a challenge, with overtones not obvious to us from this distance in time and place. Carmel was actually a series of peaks, the northern end of the mountains of Ephraim, running along the southern bank of the River Kishon, and then dropping suddenly into the Mediterranean. The territory was in some dispute between Phoenicia and Israel. Either way, it was surely under the power of Melkarth at that time. Further, it had long been regarded the haunt of any number of Baals. Thus, Elijah was daring to face the opposing gods on their home turf. More, he would face the entire corps of priests alone and in the presence of the whole nation as witnesses. The stakes could not have been higher.

18:20-24 -- Under the best conditions, the summons to a solemn assembly would take at least three days to deliver across the kingdom. For the elders of the nation to respond to the most urgent summons would take at least another three days. It's safe to say the appointed day was a week or more later. When the assembly met just after dawn that day, the prophets and priests of Melkarth and friends stood ready. Elijah took the opportunity to ask the elders a pointed question: How long would they dither between a full commitment to Jehovah or compromise with Melkarth? There was no middle ground; this was more than just politics where a truce could be negotiated. The claims of each side were mutually exclusive. Of course, no one would commit themselves prior to the demonstration. This was very much like a trial between legal adversaries and judgment would be rendered after all evidence was presented. Elijah suggested, in plain sight of all, having the nation offer two bulls, giving the pagans every advantage. The pagan priests got first choice. Each side would slaughter their bull, place it on the altar as they saw fit, but neither would kindle a fire. The god that sent fire to burn his sacrifice would be declared the national god once and for all. The elders agreed.

18:25-29 -- At the traditional time of the morning offering customary to both religions, the pagan priests were allowed to go first. They called on their gods all morning. Around noon, Elijah jeered them, suggesting they weren't loud enough. Maybe their god was preoccupied, or too far away, or inconvenienced. Their rituals continued with frenzied renewal, including gashing themselves with sacred implements. The image is one of the pagan priests sparing no effort, even to the point of improvising new ways to express their urgency that Melkarth respond. By mid-afternoon there had not been the slightest indication of response from their god.

18:30-40 -- As the time of Jehovah's evening offering approached, Elijah called the elders to come near and join themselves in his act of worship. Reminding them of the obvious, he rebuilt the altar to Jehovah that had been desecrated long ago. Adhering to the ancient Law of Moses, he used uncut stones, one for each of the Tribes of Israel (all twelve). In the process, he added a trench around it sufficient to hold roughly two bushels of seed. He laid the wood in order, slaughtered the bull and arranged the carcass on the altar. He had the whole thing doused with water repeatedly until the trench overflowed. At the proper moment, Elijah prayed rather simply that God would confirm His Word and light the offering for Himself. God's answer was fire from Heaven. The flames enveloped the whole altar down to the ground, devouring the offering as well as everything loose on the altar, and evaporating the water in the trench. In awe, the elders began chanting that Jehovah was indeed the Lord of all. Upon their confession, Elijah ordered the now exhausted prophets and priests of Melkarth arrested. The nation had rendered its verdict; the death sentence was automatic. They were marched down the north slope of the mountain, where Elijah had them executed according to the Law of Moses, on the bank of the Kishon River.

18:41-46 -- Elijah warned Ahab to dine immediately so that he could leave before it started raining. The king returned to his chariot near the peak of the hill and did so. While the king ate, he could watch. Elijah returned to the peak and began praying, with his knees on the ground and his face between them. Periodically, he had his servant go and gaze out east across the Mediterranean Sea. Each time, the servant returned saying he saw nothing different. On the seventh time, he reported seeing a tiny lone cloud over the sea. This was the sign of rapid evaporation taking place in unstable air masses aloft, which presaged a massive rain storm. Elijah told his servant to warn King Ahab to flee the coming storm. To Ahab's winter palace at Jezreel was at least 20 miles (32km). Even in the ideal chariot grounds of the Jezreel Valley, this could be no less than a two-hour ride. Before he got there, the storm clouds formed, turning the sky black as the wind rose. In yet another miracle, the prophet was seized by his zeal for Jehovah and managed to outrun Ahab's chariot and entered the gate before the King.

Chapter 9.6: New Missions for Elijah and Ahab

We begin to get a picture of Ahab as a man often steered by others. This is most certainly true in the case of Jezebel. His inaction against Elijah's execution of the prophets of Melkarth was not simply a wise choice in the face of overwhelming political momentum, but hints he was in that issue a mere figurehead. Jezebel was the real power behind royal religion.

1 Kings 19:1-8 -- What follows is proof Elijah was truly human, not a one-dimensional character. We have an English phrase that comes from the previous chapter: "a mountain-top experience." To have experienced such use by God was no doubt an emotional high no chemical substance could match. The miracle of God did not extend to changing natural human chemistry for Elijah. Just as a woman after childbirth, Elijah fell into the depths of depression. Upon hearing from Ahab what happened at Carmel, Jezebel sent a terrifying message to Elijah, promising to bring him to the same end as he did her priests the same time the next day. No doubt she meant it. Elijah fled, not just into Judah, but to the far southernmost city in Judah, Beersheba. In fear of possible spies from Jezebel, he went out into the Negev a day's walk. There in the shadow of a broom tree, Elijah engaged in a pity-party. After two naps, each ended by heavenly sustenance, Elijah was led by God to Mount Horeb. As usual, the Hebrew phrase "forty days and nights" is not literal, implying roughly a month. Elijah made the entire journey sustained by the divine provision under the broom tree.

19:9-18 -- By this time, the natural cause of depression was long past and we see Elijah cherishing it sinfully. While in the cave, he heard from God a query why he was there. His calling had been to prophesy in Israel against the sins of Ahab and Jezebel. Having proven Jehovah's power over all the gods of man's imagination, he feared the rage of woman publicly humiliated. Was the God who lit his own sacrifice atop Mount Carmel, on Melkarth's own home ground, somehow unable to keep him from her vengeance? His response to the question amounts to a childish accusation that God had not kept things perfectly suitable for his mission. We sense he felt he should not have had to face Jezebel's natural response. Perhaps she should have humbled herself to him? While her threat was real, so was God's calling and protection. He should have been glad for a chance to die for his Lord, had that been God's plan. Elijah indicated God was capricious and would not finish what He started, that He was toying with Elijah, as Obadiah had feared Elijah was doing to him there in the shadow of Samaria.

To remind him that same power at Carmel was still behind his calling, God showed him a storm, with winds powerful enough to shatter stone. Then there followed an earthquake that shifted the very ground itself like water. Finally came fire, a natural result of earthquakes opening up the ground for lava flows. Had God meant for Elijah to die, no human effort could have save him. Just so, had God meant Elijah to live, neither human effort nor worldwide catastrophe could harm him. When the cataclysms gave way to the gentle presence of God dealing with His servants, Elijah came out of the cave. Covering his face was a customary way of showing shame before his Master. Facing the same question as before, Elijah gave the same answer. The new context changed the meaning of both question and answer. Now Elijah was simply stating the facts and had no excuse for being away from his mission.

Therefore, Jehovah instructed Elijah in the next few matters of business. Acting as the high priest of God appointed over Israel, he was to go and anoint several people for their future callings. First, he was to travel north on the ancient Trans-Jordan Highway to Damascus. Out in the wilderness near there, he would meet and anoint the future king of Damascus, Hazael. Such an act would confirm for the man his ambitions to rule one day. Then Elijah was to anoint Jehu as the founder of a new dynasty in Israel. Before actually taking the throne, he would have ample time to consider accepting the Covenant of Kings with God. Finally, he was to anoint Elisha to take his place. God would use these three as a chain to execute His judgment on sinners. Then the Lord bluntly reminded him that He had no less than seven thousand servants still actively serving Him in Israel, so Elijah was hardly alone.

19:19-21 -- While not specifically stated, we can imagine Elisha was working on his family farm. Abel-meholah stood in one of the rare West Bank wadis that run north before dropping into the Jordan Valley. It was less than 10 miles northeast of the old capital of Tirzah. There we find Elisha supervising the servants with a dozen teams of oxen plowing a field. As Elijah approached, Elisha was walking near the last team. Having seen his performance on Mount Carmel, it was sure anyone who was anyone knew Elijah on sight. In a customary gesture, Elijah slung his cloak over Elisha's shoulders to signify his intention to make the farmer his successor. The description suggests he did this as he passed by, without stopping his quick stride.

Elisha turned and chased after him. What Elisha requested was an opportunity to settle his personal affairs and engage all the extended social rituals before taking up his new calling. That could take days, even weeks. Elijah's response was rather like, "What's your hurry?" This rough reply, with a bite of sarcasm, was typical of Elijah. The elder prophet delighted in springing surprises on people and clearly expected Elisha to drop everything. If the farmer expected to walk in Elijah's footsteps, he would have to learn to dispense with social niceties, ready to jump at God's command. As a compromise, Elisha organized a hasty feast in the field in honor of Elijah, who apparently played along. Seizing the nearest team of oxen, Elisha slaughtered them, built a fire from the plowing equipment and boiled the flesh. Upon finishing the meal, Elisha left with the prophet and began serving him as a disciple.

20:1-6 -- Recall that Assyria had been making noise in the states north of Syria. The records of this period are rather confused and we are hard put to guess the precise motive of Ben-hadad of Damascus in attacking Israel, aside from the usual expansionist lusts and perhaps having an old score to settle. Given the threat from the north, a very plausible explanation is Damascus was forging an alliance to face Assyria. Damascus comes with an already sizable alliance and makes demands of Ahab. The essence of Ben-hadad's demand was that Ahab assume feudal dependency on him. Such a relationship would authorize the confiscation of Ahab's personal wealth and moving the most suitable members of his household into that of Ben-hadad. When Ahab accepted this standard service, Ben-hadad pushed things a little farther. Demanding that all Ahab's servants become directly beholden to Ben-hadad was unacceptable, implying there was no reason for Ahab to continue living as titular ruler. Rather, he was subject to demotion and replacement.

20:7-12 -- Upon consultation with his advisers, Ahab declined this second demand. By this time forces of Syria had encamped around Samaria for some time. We are permitted to see Ahab's careful dealings in statecraft and his answer is polite. Ben-hadad responds that his troops were so numerous that they could level the city without much effort, each warrior needing only to carry away as much as handful of dust. Ahab's response was that boasting was dangerous. The image is of one donning armor for a fight, not in a position to celebrate a victory (remove armor) not yet won. Both were using common figures of speech from that part of the world. When Ben-hadad heard Ahab's answer, he was about to take the midday siesta still common today in that part of the world, even going so far as drinking too much in his overconfidence. The command of battle order was a bit unusual and assumed right after their break they would assault the walls. Most battles were joined in the morning light.

20:13-22 -- At that moment, an unnamed prophet of Jehovah approached Ahab. His message was that Ben-hadad's multitude would not have a chance to begin fighting. This was not for Ahab's sake, but a part of God's plan to annihilate Damascus and give Ahab a bit more time to realize just who was God of Israel. Ahab asked who would he send into battle first. The prophet answered that the younger nobles from the realm would lead the attack and Ahab would himself command. When Ben-hadad's troops first appeared, among those who had answered Ahab's mobilization order were found 232 such young nobles, backed by 7000 conscripts. They marched out at noon while Ben-hadad and his associates were hitting the wine hard in the command tent. There's a good chance the troops in their tents during this siesta were in no better shape. This was the celebration Ahab had warned them not to engage. The minimal patrol on duty noticed the gates of Samaria open and troops issuing forth. When reported to Ben-hadad, he assumed they were coming out to surrender, but if not, it wouldn't matter. He completely underestimated the situation. When the Israeli nobles struck, not one of them fell, something exceedingly rare for an assault force. As the Syrian forces fell at a 100% loss of those engaged, the rest fled in disorder. As the conscripts followed on to mop up and give chase, only those with chariots escaped unscathed. Ahab ordered his own chariot troops into pursuit and they proved more expert at navigating in the hilly terrain. Syria's troops suffered a major loss that day. Upon returning, the same unnamed prophet informed Ahab that Syria would try it again next spring -- when kings typically went to war -- and that he should build up his forces for the next time.

20:23-27 -- Ben-hadad's advisers knew that most of Israel served one Baal or another, all of whom were generally thought of as gods of the mountains. Thus, in the battle just past, the hilly ground around Samaria was their strong point. If they could draw Israel into the plains, the Baalim would be powerless. They obviously had little idea that much of this was about Jehovah's claim to the Nation of Israel and He was certainly not confined in His power to the mountains alone. At a more mundane level, the Syrian charioteers were more used to the flat terrain of their homeland, so they chose to challenge Ahab at Aphek that next spring. There are at least four places named Aphek ("Fortress") and this one was surely the fortified town on the hills above the Sea of Galilee on the southeast side. Having already taken a few cities in previous generations, the Syrians added this Aphek to their conquests as a means of provoking Ahab. Israel responded to a mobilization order and the force was fully provisioned by the king. They marched off to Aphek and camped in two small groups, while across from them lay a sea of Syrian warriors.

20:28-30 -- An unnamed prophet of Jehovah again addressed King Ahab. We can be sure they were easily marked by their manner and dress, rejecting the popular fashions of the day for the strict adherence to Mosaic dress codes. This one advised Ahab of the planning of the Syrians and their assumptions about the God of Israel. Again, Ahab was advised a major reason God was promising this was to show him He was indeed the One God of Israel. We aren't given a specific reason for waiting seven days for battle to be joined, but it was not uncommon for armies to parley and delay until they felt ready to fight. Quite likely the cause was Ben-hadad running down the list of his demands, sending messengers back and forth. When the forces clashed, Syria was delivered wholesale into Israel's hands, and some 100,000 Syrian soldiers fell. The balance fled for refuge into their newly captured fortified city of Aphek. The fortifications were in bad repair, it seems, for a section of wall collapsed under assault and killed another 27,000. This was an end to Ben-hadad's adventures, as he was trapped in a secure chamber inside the city.

20:31-34 -- Ben-hadad's advisers knew that Israeli customs were unlike most others, in that kings tended to be less severe with surrendering enemies. Ahab's sole success as king was in making more friends than enemies. The Syrian court unanimously donned garments of mourning and penitence, and then sent a delegation to Ahab. When they asked Ahab to spare Ben-hadad's life, Ahab jumped at the chance to make friends, calling him a brother. The delegation seized on this turn of phrase as they pressed their case. When Ben-hadad came out, Ahab invited him to sit with him in the royal chariot. The terms of surrender were to restore the cities originally held by Israel and the markets of Damascus would be open to Israeli agents. Ahab released his new ally.

20:35-43 -- This was not what God had in mind. Apparently the old School of the Prophets had reconvened under Elijah. One of the trainees asked his neighbor to strike him hard enough to wound. This was a command from God and when the other refused, his doom was announced. Most likely others heard the sentence and heard that it came true. When the student prophet asked another man to wound him, this one complied. Then the prophet bound his wound, mostly covering his eyes in the process. He was probably known to Ahab and needed to avoid being recognized until his message was given in a parable. Waiting by the main road back from Aphek, the prophet accosted King Ahab, calling for justice. Kings were customarily obliged to hear cases. Flush with victory, Ahab was in a mood to show off his success with magnanimity. The man presented his case that he had been assigned to guard a prisoner, presumably because the visible injury he took had ended his combat effectiveness. It was a common practice to leave prisoners under such a guard. The penalty for letting the prisoner escape would be death, or ransom of an outrageous sum. Such guards would often be tempted to gather plunder and souvenirs of the battle. Was it not natural? In the process, the prisoner escaped. Was the guard truly at fault, seeing all these other requirements? Ahab ruled he was indeed and he would pay the penalty he mentioned, for he had essentially confessed. Jerking the bandage off his head, the man revealed his identity as a known prophet of Jehovah. Just as the supposed plaintiff had condemned himself by his own mouth, so had Ahab. The king had been summoned by Jehovah for a mission and had been handed the life of his enemy. But Ahab had elected to pursue other goals for his own comfort and allowed his prisoner to escape.

The judgment on Ahab was final. He would lose his own life for this failure, just as a soldier assigned to guard duty forfeited his life for dereliction of duty. Worse, his failure was no mere personal loss, but would cost the whole realm freedom and life. Syria would survive, but Israel would cease to exist. The moment of joyful victory had become a depressing loss for Ahab.

Chapter 9.7: Ahab's End

After a scathing rebuke for letting Ben-hadad live, Ahab assumes a sullen mood. He becomes complicit in conspiracy and murder, once again letting his evil wife have her way. He tries to get his latest ally killed, but dies in the process.

1 Kings 21:1-4 -- Naboth owned a small vineyard in the shadow of Ahab's winter palace in Jezreel. In accordance with Mosaic Law, the man refused to sell to Ahab, on the grounds that it would certainly result in a permanent loss to his tribe. While a man could legally sell or exchange his inherited property voluntarily, it was forbidden to coerce such sales. In this case, selling to the king would muddy the clan's claim to the original allotment among the tribes. If the king were to build a wall around it, he could claim it was part of the city and need not return it at Jubilee (Leviticus 25:23-34). Ever the petulant child, Ahab went home and sulked.

21:5-10 -- Jezebel despised the Law of Moses, but was not above using it to get her way. First, she suggested the Ahab was not asserting his royal prerogatives, accepting humiliating limitations not binding on pagan kings. Then she promised to get the vineyard for him. Surely, he knew she would do evil in the process. The nobles allowed to live in the city with the king were those willing to dance to any tune he or Jezebel played. She issued letters with the royal seal instructing the nobles to arrest Naboth and put him on trial before a noble assembly. Then they were to hire two of the low-life scum present in every city to make false accusations against Naboth. This would satisfy the letter of the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 17:6f) she despised.

21:11-16 -- These noble lapdogs had no trouble fulfilling Jezebel's command. The charges brought against Naboth were that he cursed the king, a capital offense by itself, and that he cursed God. This is the same God who had no honor with anyone except the man accused. For Jezebel, this was just another political propaganda opportunity. She used the provisions of Moses' Law to destroy the righteousness it demanded. A man found guilty of such high crimes forfeited his property, along with his life, to the crown. Thus, Ahab simply went and took possession of the vineyard.

21:17-29 -- While Ahab busied himself converting the vineyard to a vegetable garden, the Lord sent word to Elijah to confront Ahab. He told Elijah where to find him, too. So when Elijah appeared before Ahab, the latter knew he was in trouble and why. His question implies wondering if Elijah found him out, which Elijah bluntly confirms. The place of the public trial of Naboth would have been near the city well or spring, usually just outside the city gates. This one had an opulent public bath, used by prostitutes as a means of advertising. Naboth would have been executed there because of tradition and it would be a convenient place to clean up the mess. Then his body would have been buried in a public place nearby, under a heap of stones to remind all the seriousness of his crime. Elijah declared that the blood of Ahab would be licked by the same dogs who cleaned up the blood of Naboth. Further, the same dogs would also consume the body of Jezebel near the city wall of Jezreel. Finally, the household of Ahab would join its predecessors in obliteration.

The scribe takes a moment to sum up Ahab's reign as the most evil of all men, who allowed his wife to make too many decisions for him. He went out of his way to insult Jehovah openly. Yet right after this confrontation with Elijah, he was overtaken by fear and humbled himself publicly before God, mourning for his sins. As a result, the final end of the Omride dynasty would be moved from Ahab's life to that of his son.

22:1-4 -- This chapter is paralleled in 2 Chronicles 18. Probably in connection with his return to piety, Ahab reaches out to his previous enemy, the King of Judah. The two were celebrating their new friendship by sitting in their ceremonial robes out on the threshing floor near the city gates of Samaria. We learn elsewhere that Jehoshaphat married his son to Ahab's daughter, Athaliah. Noting that he had been at peace with Damascus three years, Ahab comments on the situation. The peace with Damascus had worn thin, as Ben-hadad failed to keep his promise of returning one of the cities his predecessor had taken from Israel, Ramoth-gilead. When Ahab invites Jehoshaphat to support him in sending troops to seize the city, the latter agrees in principle.

22:5-12 -- However, Jehoshaphat wants to hear from God about such a military venture. Ahab had not cleared his court of Jezebel's pagan priests, but rather allowed her to replace the ones executed by Elijah. He asks them to prophesy on the matter. They, of course, say what the king wants to hear. Given his past success, they make a safe guess. Jehoshaphat said he would prefer word from a prophet of Jehovah. Obviously, the King of Judah doesn't realize how bad things are with Israel. At this time, the only prophet of Jehovah available in the city is Micaiah. Ahab hates to hear from him, because he reminds the king constantly how he lives in sin. Jehoshaphat politely suggests Ahab overstates the matter and wants to hear from the prophet. While awaiting Micaiah, the pagan priests put on quite a show demonstrating how things were sure to work out well against Damascus. One engages in a bit of sympathetic magic with a pair of iron horns, representing the two kings destroying all before them.

22:13-28 -- Micaiah is warned to behave himself and talk nice to the king. This he does, but with sarcasm, so Ahab knows it's fake. He demands Micaiah say what he really believes. In reply, the prophet describes a vision of the whole army scattered like lost sheep, because there was no shepherd. This implies Ahab would die in the battle. He then tells a story of his vision of how it all took place in Heaven. The Lord asked the spirits who would persuade Ahab to attack Ramoth-gilead. After hearing several proposals, one came forward promising to deceive Ahab's pagan seers to trick him into going. The Lord accepted that plan. The prophet with the iron horns, Zedekiah, slapped Micaiah demanding he explain how the Holy Spirit got from him to Micaiah. Aside from being a very grave insult -- only very bad children were struck with an open hand -- this was ludicrous on the face of it. That Zedekiah even knew Jehovah was out of the question. Micaiah answered Zedekiah will find out the answer when he runs to escape disaster. Ahab grumped about this whole business and commanded Micaiah be imprisoned at hard labor until he returned in victory. Micaiah answered he would then die in prison gladly, for if Ahab returned alive, this prophet was deluded.

22:29-36 -- Just to be sure Micaiah was wrong, Ahab decided to fight in disguise. That is, he would set aside his unique royal armor, wear standard equipment and ride in an ordinary chariot. He also set up Jehoshaphat for death by asking him to go as usual in his royal attire. Meanwhile, Ben-hadad instructed his chariot commanders to engage only the King of Israel and ignore everyone else, letting the foot soldiers carry the main battle. Not knowing the King of Judah was involved, they went after the only symbol of royalty they could see. When Jehoshaphat fled with a whole company of chariots in pursuit, they quickly realized this was not Ahab and let him go. But Ahab was not safe, for during battle a random arrow struck in the gap between his armor plates. He had himself propped up as if surveying the battle while he bled to death. Eventually his death was announced and they sounded retreat.

22:37-40 -- Ahab was buried in the royal tomb in Samaria. His blood was rinsed from the chariot during the time the prostitutes bathed at the public gate pool. The dogs, indeed, licked his blood, all according to prophecy. His son Ahaziah reigned in his place.

Chapter 9.8: Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah

Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, reigned 25 years from 873 to 848 BC. The story comes somewhat out of chronological order in the text. King Ahaziah of Israel reigned briefly during the latter years of Jehoshaphat.

2 Chronicles 19:1-11 -- Returning safely from the battle that ended Ahab's reign, Jehoshaphat is warned by the Seer Jehu (son of the seer his father had imprisoned, ch. 16:7) that allying with wicked men will purchase the wrath of God. However, the warning is moderated by Jehoshaphat's general desire to please Jehovah. Taking this warning to heart, the King redoubled his efforts to draw his nation closer to God. The text implies he himself went out and preached the Law. He then established a court system, selecting judges for each locale at various levels. He solemnly warned them this was all about holiness before the Lord. Jehoshaphat went on to establish a formal central appeals court system in the capital. While noting that all legal matters are under the Law of Moses, there is an administrative division here between civil and ceremonial judges. The senior judge in ceremonial cases was also the Chief Priest, Amariah. For civil matters Jehoshaphat appointed his chamberlain, the Ishmaelite Zebadiah, as chief justice. Throughout the system, there was stern warning that all judges were answerable to God for their work. This whole business would have taken several years.

20:35-37 -- Meanwhile, we jump to end of the next chapter to catch a story mirrored in 1 Kings 22. Jehoshaphat carried over his alliance with Ahab to the heir, Ahaziah, and allows him to play minor partner in the trade based in Ezion-geber, on the Gulf of Aqaba. The Lord's wrath is kindled and the first joint trade mission is destroyed by a storm. Afterward, Jehoshaphat distances himself from Ahaziah. The judicial reforms took place at the same time as the trade mission.

20:1-4 -- The crushing power David and Solomon had brought against Ammon, Moab and Edom eventually bred rebellion in 852 BC, just three years after Ahab died. This passage is slightly confusing and there are variations among sources as to who exactly had allied together against Judah. There was probably a people known as the Mehunites and it's possible they may have hired some Syrian troops, who had just successfully defeated Israel and Judah in battle at Ramoth-gilead. The allied nations began sending a massed army, working its way around the south end of the Dead Sea. They had seized and occupied Engedi, on the west shore of the sea. Jehoshaphat wisely proclaimed a fast, calling the leaders of his kingdom to join him in a solemn prayer assembly at Jerusalem.

20:5-13 -- Mentioned in passing is that the King had expanded the Temple to add a new courtyard. His impassioned plea recalled the prayer of Solomon. The questions are purely rhetorical, implying most certainly a yes answer. Now they were gathered according to the promise made to Solomon, calling out to God from the Temple dedicated to His Name. Jehoshaphat notes that, while the Jews had crippled these nations in the past, they had never taken from the inheritance designated for them by Jehovah. What thanks was it they now sought to drive Judah from their inheritance? Finally, the King notes their forces outnumber those of Judah.

20:14-19 -- A Levite of the Sons of Asaph (Temple Musicians) named Jahaziel was moved to speak the Lord's reply. This is echoed in Psalm 83, which gives a more complete list of the allied nations. By adding Tyre, the Amalekites, the Philistines and elements of the Assyrian Empire, it explains how the invaders could boast such a massive army as to frighten Judah, with roughly a million soldiers at last count. The musician told how this was God's fight, not Judah's. He instructed them to go down and meet the enemy as they marched up the Ascent of Ziz, which began a few miles north of Engedi. This was a broad wadi that opened out onto an area called the Wilderness of Jeruel. This would permit a first strike at Hebron, which is believed to have been better defended than any other city at that time. Victory there would be a massive psychological blow, laying the ground for attacking Jerusalem. However, there would be no need to fight. Judah's army should stand and watch how Jehovah would defeat the invaders. The only appropriate response from the nation's leadership was to bow their faces to the ground at such a mighty promise of God. The rest of the Temple Musicians broke out in a praise chorus.

20:20-23 -- The dramatic scene that follows is hard to do justice with mere words. At dawn, the army of Judah marched some 10 miles (16km) to the wilderness area near the city of Tekoa. As they drew near, it was time to set the troops in battle order. Normally this includes dividing the troops into manageable formations, deciding where to place each and so forth. After consulting with the leaders of Judah, Jehoshaphat placed the Temple Musicians in the vanguard, as the first to meet the enemy. Their song was a simple praise of God's glory. The enemy horde was already in position, divided into national armies. In response to praise of His Name, the Lord incited the Edomites ("Mount Seir") against their allies. When the Edomites had been destroyed, the remaining nations turned on each other.

20:24-30 -- Imagine the scene as the army of Judah tops the rise and looks down upon the invading hordes. There was nothing but a sea of dead bodies. The only thing left was to strip the dead, who for some reason had brought an unusual amount of valuables with them. It took three days to plunder the invaders. Then they all reassembled in the valley where the bodies were left to rot and be devoured by carrion eaters. They named it the Valley of Berachah ("Blessing") with a thanksgiving ceremony. The entire army of Judah returned rejoicing and the realm had peace for the rest of Jehoshaphat's reign.

20:31-34 -- The story of Jehoshaphat closes with the statistics of his reign, with a scribal note that he stayed faithful to Jehovah. In spite of his efforts, the people of his realm rebuilt some of the shrines he had destroyed earlier.

2 Kings 1:1-4 -- As a build up to the battle with Judah, the Moabites rose in revolt against Israel. They were encouraged in this by the defeat of Israel and Judah at Ramoth-gilead. Over the next two years they made life miserable for Ahaziah, the heir of King Ahab, on top of his loss of alliance with Judah. His short reign (853-852 BC) ended because of his immense evil. Earlier, we described how it was common for the wealthy to build a latticed room on the roof of their homes, as a place of refuge from the heat of summer. Ahaziah had such an addition on his palace in Samaria and fell through the lattice to the ground at least one story below. His injuries appeared serious enough that the King sought word on his fate from a prophet.

However, he sent his inquiry to prophets of a pagan god, dispatching his servants to the temple at Ekron. There the Philistines worshiped Baal-zebul ("Lord of the Home"), a title implying the God of Life, their chief deity. The scribe engages in the typical Hebrew mocking by changing the spelling just a bit to Baal-zebub, "Lord of the Flies." As they depart on this mission, Jehovah sends an angel to Elijah, now master of several academies of prophets. The Lord tells him to intercept the messengers. Elijah was to send them back with the question of how a King of Israel would seek word from some other nation's gods, as if there were no God of Israel. For this blatant rejection of Jehovah, who had repeatedly clarified the issue with acts of power often involving Elijah, the King would die soon of his injuries.

1:5-12 -- A mission that should have taken at least a week saw the messengers return the same day. When the King asked why they returned, they told him of their encounter with a man they didn't know. We finally learn of Elijah's appearance: a hairy man who wore a wide leather belt, instead of the more common cloth. Ahaziah knew by the description this was Elijah. Reviving his mother's animus against the prophet, he sent a company of his bodyguard to arrest Elijah. We find him sitting atop a hill, probably just out of easy reach on a rock out-cropping. The captain approached at the head of his troops and ordered Elijah down, sneeringly addressing the prophet as "Man of Jehovah." Elijah replied that if he were indeed a Man of Jehovah, then let fire come down from Heaven to consume the soldiers. Immediately that very thing happened. No doubt there were onlookers there to watch the fun, dismayed by this result. A report came back to the King, who sent another company. Using the same rude address, the captain demanded Elijah come down. This group met the same end.

1:13-18 -- The third captain was considerably wiser. The issue was not respect for Elijah the man, but as Man of Jehovah, Prophet of the God of Israel. Having heard from the onlookers what happened to his peers, this captain paid proper respects and pleaded with Elijah not to curse him and his troops. The angel that had sent Elijah in the first place appeared again and gave Elijah permission to be taken into custody, as no harm would come to him. Upon entering the King's presence, he repeated the message again: Is there no God of Israel that the King would enquire of Baal-zebul of Ekron? For this sin and insult to Jehovah, the King would not recover, but die in his bed. He passed a short time later. Having no son, his brother, Jehoram took the throne. We note that there was later a King of Judah by that name and we should not confuse them.

Chapter 9.9: Elijah and Elisha

The sin of the kings of Israel was diminishing Jehovah to a mere political symbol. They determined who to worship based on human wisdom and perceived political advantage. The people of power and wealth preferred the Baals and Asherah, while a less powerful faction longed for the service of the Temple in Jerusalem and would gladly return to the reign of the House of David. This faction saw that as their Golden Age and resented the upstart House of Omri. None of this mattered to Elijah and Elisha. For them, the issue was Jehovah, the One true God, who ruled Israel, acknowledged or not.

2 Kings 2:1-9 -- There are two places named Gilgal. This one was just southwest of Shiloh and was apparently the location for an Academy of Prophets. It had been a seat of Jeroboam's false worship of the calf riding god, according to Amos 4:4 and Hosea 4:15. Quite likely this site was used when Israel lost control of Bethel (2 Chronicles 13:19, battle between Jeroboam and Abijah) for a time. Tradition says Jeroboam rebuilt his southern temple there to challenge the memory of Shiloh as the first home of Jehovah's Tabernacle, as well as asserting his own national gods. When Israel regained possession of Bethel and restored Jeroboam's temple, they kept the temple at Gilgal of Ephraim active. It's no surprise Elijah would build a prophet's academy near both false temples. Certainly Ahab would have converted them later to major centers of worship for Melkarth and other Baals. Thus, Elijah made one last circuit to strengthen his students against the coming moral battles and against subtle inroads of pagan elements in their service.

Elijah would have set out at dawn. He challenged Elisha by suggesting the latter stay there at Gilgal. Elisha refused. As the man groomed to take Elijah's place, he was determined to follow to the end. Along the way, the students accurately prophesied the day's final events. The third academy was near Jericho, down in the Jordan Valley. This final farewell before crossing the Jordan brought out 50 men, perhaps the entire body of students and teachers. This entourage followed the two prophets to the spot Elijah chose to cross. He pulled off the cloak that every man wore or carried while traveling, rolled it up in a long bundle and slapped it down on the surface of the river. The water simply divided, much as it had at the Red Sea crossing under Moses. The description of it takes away any possible natural event, but was rather sudden, leaving a dry crossing on the river bed. Up to this point, the two prophets had traveled over 30 miles (48km), so the day was nearly gone, even with Elijah's vigorous stride.

2:10-18 -- Most likely the school was watching from a bluff overlooking the river and could observe the whole thing. Elijah turned to Elisha and asked what boon he could offer his closest disciple. Elisha's answer is one of the most misunderstood requests in all of Scripture. In the context, he asked the first-born's portion. A "double portion" is what was given the first-born son of a man who had more than one son. The man's estate was divided into equal shares numbering one for each son, plus one more share. A man with 6 sons would parcel out 7 shares. The first-born, carrying the full responsibility of the father's business and covenant obligations, received two shares, while the rest got one. Elisha asked for a confirmation that he had fully inherited the calling and office of Elijah. The act of dropping his cloak on Elisha's shoulders some years before was indeed a calling to at least try succeeding Elijah in ministry. Confirmation was what Elisha sought and that was the "hard thing" he asked. The confirmation would hinge on whether Elisha was acceptable to God and would come in the form of seeing Elijah taken up.

Elijah had known beforehand where he was to catch his ride into the spirit realm. As they strolled along the East Bank of the Jordan, he described what would happen within the next few moments. The whirlwind recalls the pillar of cloud and fire that Israel followed from Egypt. It was the earliest symbol of God's might in battle, as well as the chariot. In this case, it was to be Jehovah's own battle chariot. Sure enough, Elisha saw both symbols. The glowing chariot pulled alongside and picked up Elijah, then rose into the sky on a whirlwind. Elisha cried out in ecstasy, letting Elijah know he had seen it all. Then he tore his clothes near the collar to indicate customary bereavement. Picking up the mantle was both literal and symbolic, as it was his in flesh and spirit to carry the cloak of Elijah's ministry. Repeating Elijah's act at the river side, he called out. It was not a question of doubt, but a rhetorical question with an obvious answer: The Lord was with him. Upon repeating the crossing on a dry river bed, he was met by a respectful proclamation from the school. Their words and actions were a commitment to treat Elisha with the same respect they had held for Elijah.

Their obsession with finding the body of Elijah shows a clear lack of understanding. While it was almost unprecedented that a man would simply leave earth without dying (Gen 5:24, Enoch), it was not beyond comprehension. The school had not seen Elijah's glorious departure, so had to accept Elisha's word on it. They didn't. Insisting they would find the body, they harassed Elisha until he gave in to their request for a search party. Three days of fruitless searching brought them back in shame.

2:19-25 -- Immediately, the miracles that had clung to his predecessor also followed Elisha. First off, the academy at Jericho suffered with the city. While the area is known today as a tropical paradise, the whole area was plagued by bad water. Most likely soluble material from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah polluted the ground water. The context indicates women were suffering an unusual level of infertility and still births. Elisha called for symbols: a new bowl because God's vessels must be His first and edible salt as a symbol of cleansing and purification. In a brief ceremonial act, he declared the waters healed by the power of Jehovah. To this day, the main spring of Jericho is sweet, while all the rest are brackish.

Elisha began a return circuit. Approaching the school at Bethel, he was accosted by some young men of the town. Keep in mind that this is as much politics as religion. Elisha was in their eyes a reactionary partisan trying to draw the Kingdom of Israel back under the House of David. Everyone forgot that Jehovah Himself had called for the division of the nation and it was loyalty to Himself that was at issue. The youths may well have been a group organized by the opposition party to harass Elisha as they had Elijah. The point was Jehovah was the same God, whatever the political situation. As best we can tell, they are taunting him about Elijah's translation into the Spirit Realm. They Elisha to disappear into the heavens ("go up"), as well, so the land could be rid of him. At the same time, they ridiculed his balding head. Most baldness then was the result of leprosy, so they were implying he was unfit to enter the city. Their behavior was deplorable, beyond rudeness to the point of cursing him, as it were. He turned and pronounced God's curse on their sin and some forty-two of them were badly injured or killed by she-bears. It is well known female Syrian bears that roamed the area were more vicious than males, who were simply bad tempered by comparison. His next stop was Mount Carmel, symbolically claiming to inherit the legacy of what happened there several years before. Then he headed to Samaria, the capital.

Chapter 9.10: Elisha in War and Peace

In 852 BC, Jehoram succeeds his brother Ahaziah to the throne of Israel. Elijah's departure came shortly after his prophecy to the dying Ahaziah; Elisha now serves the same ministry as Jehoram reigns.

2 Kings 3:1-8 -- What kind of king was Jehoram? He did take down the sacred pillar his father had dedicated to Baal, but hardly departed from the politically oriented refusal to return to Jehovah. Moab had begun throwing off the yoke of Israel under Ahaziah, but was in full revolt against Jehoram. The King mustered his army. As this was shortly before the passing of Jehoshephat of Judah, Jehoram sent an envoy asking help to subdue Moab. They agreed to circle around from the south, passing through Edom. This was after Edom had joined Moab, Ammon and a mixed host of others in attacking Judah. God provoked the others against Edom, so she no longer regarded Moab as a friend. On top of that, the military victory placed Edom firmly subservient to Judah and had already thrown her lot in with them against Moab.

3:9-12 -- Their route was down the west shore of the Dead Sea and around the south end. While this area was generally dry all year round, it could be extremely so during the dry season. There are few springs and they tend to be seasonal. By the time they joined up with Edom after crossing the Rift Valley, they were in bad shape. This was the north end of Edom and the southern border of Moab. They halted at the mouth of the Wadi Zered. We have no idea how it was Elisha was with them, but it appears Jehoram was unaware of it. The King of Israel made some sarcastic remark how Jehovah had abandoned them all to die. It was a not-so-subtle way of reminding all who heard that he felt justified in rejecting the Lord as God of his kingdom. Jehoshaphat's response was to insist they call on Jehovah via one of His prophets. A servant of Jehoram mentioned Elisha was with them, referring to him as the closest disciple of Elijah. Taking that as a commendation, Jehoshaphat demanded they go see him.

3:13-19 -- When they confronted the Prophet, Elisha proved to have learned well from his master and told Jehoram to go back to his family gods for consultation. The King of Israel retorted they had come to him because it was his God that got them in this mess. Elisha responded with a phrase that Jehovah was indeed the One Living God; were it not for the faithful King of Judah's presence, Elisha would have ignored them in the first place. Since he was bound to honor Jehoshaphat's request, he would seek the Lord by way of music praising Jehovah. When a musician began to play, the Spirit of God gave answer to their request. There at wide, flat mouth of the Wadi Zered, Elisha told them to start digging ditches to catch the rain that was about to fall. However, they would not see the storms, nor feel the wind, for it would be far to the east and south, beyond the range of hills through which the Zered cut its path. He reminded them this fulfillment of their request was a small task for God and He would allow them to defeat Moab's army, as well. Further, He wanted Moab destroyed, leaving no fortified city standing, no usable trees left growing, every spring stopped with sandy rubble and stones scattered over every arable stretch of land. This was no mere battle for political victory, but a command to press the campaign for weeks until the job was complete.

3:20-25 -- As a pointed reminder, the scribe mentions the dawn as the time of the morning grain offering. This was a free-will gift to God, most of which was used to feed the priests on duty in the Temple. By this time, the various offerings were presented in a specific sequence. The moment folks in Jerusalem were presenting this grain offering, far away on the border of Moab, the allied armies of Israel, Judah and Edom watched water begin flooding the Wadi Zered. On the heights of the northern bank, Moab had massed every male capable of holding a weapon. The sun was rising in the east, filtered by the storm clouds just visible on the horizon from the heights, but not in the valley. Moab's troops on the high ground saw a red dawn, reflected off the pools of water in the dark valley below. Assuming a repeat of the recent battle they fought against Judah, but this time her enemies fighting each other, Moab's commanders urged the troops to seize the moment and plunder as they had been plundered the year before. They plunged down the slopes first into Israel's camp. Since this is primarily Israel's war, she would have been in the vanguard of any battle. The troops camped in the valley had been gathering water, already refreshed. When the Moabites flooded into the empty camps, it was like a baited trap. The headlong rush was brutally halted and Moab fled a fierce army, intact and ready. On the heels of this battle, the entire allied force rolled up all resistance from the south and destroyed the Land of Moab as God had commanded. Pulling down the fortified cities supplied the stones for scattering in arable fields. The only city they couldn't destroy was Kir Haresheth. This city stood at the end of a narrow gorge on a hill. The best the allied forces could do was sling stones over the city walls from the surrounding heights.

3:26-27 -- Convinced Edom was the weak link, Mesha himself led a small force of professional warriors numbering 700. He was unable to approach their lines directly. This same King left an inscription called the Moabite Stone in Dibon, a major city of Moab just north of the River Arnon. This city was on land that was supposed to have been in the tribal grant to Reuben. On this stone, he confesses that Israel had been allowed by his god Chemosh to oppress Moab, due to the god's anger with his people. Under this apprehension, Mesha is facing the final end of his nation. Consistent with his pagan concepts, he goes up on the city wall in sight of the besieging forces and offers his heir in ritual slaughter. The troops of Israel, long under the sway of pagan superstition, find themselves unable to continue the war after seeing this. At their withdrawal, the war is over.

4:1-7 -- The following year, we find Elisha back managing the Academies of the Prophets. One of his students died, leaving a widow and two sons deeply in debt. She approached Elisha seeking God's protection from the creditors, who had already presented her with a claim to confiscate her property and enslave her sons. He asked what she had left in the house. She replied it was a mere jar of oil. He told her to go and borrow from her neighbors every empty container she could find. He cautioned her not to take this task lightly, but to fill her house with empty vessels. Then she was to retreat with her sons behind closed doors and begin pouring her one jar of oil into these vessels. With her sons bringing empties to her, they took away everything filled with oil. When the last was filled, the oil stopped flowing. Reporting the results to Elisha, he told her to sell the excess, pay her debts, and live on what was left. The abundance of God's provision in this case was limited only to her exercise of faith in collecting containers.

4:8-17 -- On his rounds in the Kingdom of Israel, Elisha passed often through Shunem, a city of Issachar near Jezreel. This was the place where the army of Philistia camped in preparation for the battle that ended King Saul's life. In this city was a noble woman, faithful to Jehovah, who persuaded Elisha to have lunch in her home when he passed. She even persuaded her husband to build on a room for him on the upper floor adjoining the wall of their large home. This was a choice accommodation, a real honor and Elisha became comfortable with staying the night there on his travels. He felt obliged to offer some favor in return. With his servant Gehazi as go-between, he first offered to use his influence at the royal court on her behalf. Finding she was quite content with her life, he asked his servant's advice. Gehazi noticed she was childless and her husband aging. So Elijah announced to her that when he came again the same time next year, she would be holding a baby boy. She pleaded with Elisha not to tease her. Yet the promise came true.

4:18-31 -- A few years later, this same boy went out in the morning to where his father was managing the grain harvest. This was the warmest part of the year; it may be the lad got over-heated. The boy suddenly grabbed his head and complained of pain. His father had a servant carry him home, where his mother held him until he died, around noontime. She laid the boy on Elisha's bed, then went out to her husband in the field and asked for a donkey to ride and a servant to lead it to Elisha. Her husband wondered at the errand, since it was not yet near any of the occasions for taking a special offering, but she insisted. Once mounted, she ordered her servant to drive hard and straight to Mount Carmel. This would have taken her until mid-afternoon.

Spotting her from afar, Elisha knew something was up, so ordered Gehazi to meet her and inquire if all was well. She didn't bother to tell Gehazi her mission, so he reported all was well with the family. Upon arriving herself, she ran to grab Elisha's feet in an emotional outburst. Gehazi was naturally concerned this would appear scandalous, but Elisha told him to give her time to compose herself and explain the cause of her sorrow. Whatever it was, Elisha had no word from God. When Elisha had promised her a son, it was no doubt a desperate longing she was sure she'd never see. She had just about gotten used to the situation when Elisha stirred that wild, improbable hope again. Once granted, it now seemed a cruel trick to lose him so young. Her question implied she would have been better off had Elisha not stirred things up. Immediately he knew her son was ill or dead. He ordered Gehazi to take his staff, his symbol of power as a shepherd of God's people, ignore everyone and everything in haste and go lay the staff on the child's face. If the child were merely ill, this would suffice. She warned Elisha she would not leave his side. If he wanted to end this crisis, he would have to go himself. Before they arrived, Gehazi came out to meet them, relating that the staff brought no reaction from the boy.

4:32-37 -- Entering the house, Elisha went straight up to his room. Seeing the boy was already dead, he realized he underestimated things. He closed the door and began praying. As an extension of his prayer, he laid himself on the child symbolizing what he sought. When the flesh of the boy had warmed, Elisha went down to the main house and paced, awaiting God's answer. Then he went back up and repeated his symbolic prayer act. The boy sneezed, indicating he was alive, and then opened his eyes. Elisha then called the woman via his servant, and told her to embrace her son. She bowed at Elisha's feet in gratitude, then took hold of her boy and left the room.

Chapter 9.11: Elisha and Israel's Peril

Elisha continues his divine service of miracles in the Kingdom of Israel. Jehoram is still king, Ben-hadad rules Syria and things are not friendly with the two kingdoms. Between war campaigns there is an uneasy peace. The time is very near the death of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, 848 BC.

2 Kings 4:38-41 -- There were a few years of drought in Israel, resulting in famine. On one of his rounds between the Schools of the Prophets, Elisha came to Gilgal or Ephraim. He suggests they put on a large pot of water and make stew from whatever can be found. One of the students finds what he takes to be edible wild cucumbers. However, they are the bitter-tasting variety that causes indigestion and diarrhea. The taste is the same as a rather deadly plant and the students refused to eat it. Elisha adds a bit of flour and the Lord purifies the pot, perhaps symbolizing how the Bread of Life added to our lives can remove our poisonous sins.

4:42-44 -- To insure we know that Bread of Life is always sufficient, we are told of a man coming from an area near Gilgal called Baal Shalisha, or Beth Shalisha, "The House of Three Valleys." He was able to produce a crop of barley, which can grow under conditions many other things will not. Barley harvest is near the first of April and this man had no priests of Levites to whom he could present his offering, so he brought to Elisha as much as a man could carry. This would be twenty flat disks of barley pita and a large bag of roasted grain, still a favorite today in the Middle East. This might have fed Elisha and his servant Gehazi for a week or so, but Elisha wanted to share it with the whole school. The giver questioned how some hundred men would profit from a mere mouthful each, but Elisha promised by the Word of God there would be enough for all and some left over. Thus it happened; the students came and took enough for a full meal and all were fed.

5:1-4 -- Jehovah designed a way to bring His servant into the limelight. Naaman was the commander over the entire Syrian army. Leprosy in the Old Testament was more a descriptive term than a precise medical diagnosis. It was most likely not what we call "leprosy" today (Hansen's Disease). Tradition describes a condition much more like eczema, where the skin dies off in thin layers, turning white and flaking, and exposing raw flesh underneath. Eventually it progressed to the point of limbs dropping off. It actually was not very communicable. In Syria it was not regarded as abhorrent, but could limit one's physical performance. Naaman had valiantly led in battle, but his affliction threatened to cut short his illustrious career. During one of their petty raids, the Syrian troops brought back an Israeli girl captive and made her a gift to Naaman. The context indicates serving him was quite an honor. The girl was aware of Elisha's miracles and spoke glowingly of his power. Word got back to Naaman and then Ben-hadad.

5:5-7 -- While the two kingdoms might conduct raids in disputed areas, they were ostensibly at peace. Not knowing the situation, Ben-hadad assumed Elisha served in Israel's court, as he represented the old God of Israel. Thus, he sent a delegation to Samaria with a generous gift, a customary offering of royalty and noblemen in exchange for a great favor. The suits of clothing would most certainly have included some light armor. It was a mark of nobility to bear arms and armor routinely. When Jehoram discovered the reason for the visit, he thought it was some sort of outrageous provocation, a pretext for war. The request was beyond any king to fulfill, save the King of Kings. Jehoram tore a section of his royal garments near the collar as a sign of mourning for what was surely a war to come, one he knew Syria could win.

5:8-14 -- Elisha heard about it and sarcastically taunted the King, asking why he should be all out of sorts, since Jehoram need only request help from Elisha. We have seen already how such a thing would be galling to the royalist party, which for mere politics rejected allegiance to Jehovah. Still, Jehoram sent Naaman back with Elisha's messenger to the Prophet's quarters there in the capital city. Humbly obeying the rules about lepers entering the home of the God-fearing, Naaman expected Elisha to come out and perform some elaborate ritual. Instead, the Prophet sent a servant with instructions that made no sense to Naaman: wash seven times in the Jordan. Indignant, the General left, taking the main road back home. While his path almost certainly crossed the Jordan, he muttered how the rivers near Damascus were at least as good as the Jordan, but his servants asked him to see things in a different light. If Elisha had ordered some grand performance or sacrifice, it would have made perfect sense to Naaman. One pays a high price for a great healing. Why was bathing for cleanliness so objectionable? How hard could it be to get wet in the Jordan? Thus, he could quickly and easily prove whether this man really was a servant of Most High God. Naaman relented, made a stop at the Jordan and dipped himself seven times under the water's surface. Upon drying his skin, he found it as soft and pink as that of newborn.

5:15-19 -- Realizing no other god even claimed the power to heal like this, Naaman returned to Gilgal determined to honor this prophet and his God. Now clean, Naaman came into the courtyard of Elisha's dwelling, along with his ranking servants. He presented himself as a servant to a king. His offer was again rebuffed, for it would miss the point entirely. God is honored more in the heart than in material things. Still acting under the assumption Jehovah was merely a national god of some locale, he begged to take as much Israeli soil as he could carry away, so as to make a place of worship. He further begged indulgence when his job required him to pay lip-service to his master's god, Rimmon. Rather than struggle with the man's misunderstandings, Elisha blessed the plan and sent Naaman away in peace.

5:20-27 -- Gehazi just could not understand how Elisha could turn down such good and useful gifts. He never really absorbed what he saw and heard in his years of service to the Prophet. Chasing after Naaman, he requested a portion of the gifts. The two suits of clothing, including dress armor, would be a heavy bundle. The silver was measured by weight, for the coin by the same name did not yet exist. Altogether, what Naaman sent back required two or more men to carry. Once the goods were hidden, Gehazi returned to his master as if nothing had happened. Elisha was a true prophet of God, from Whom nothing was hidden. The Lord could reveal any fact to His prophets. Elisha gave his servant a chance to confess, but Gehazi lied. Elisha's question indicated Gehazi understood nothing, for by rejecting the gifts, Elisha showed Jehovah was not about stuff, but about the heart. The high honor to His name from refusing the gifts was deeply compromised by Gehazi's actions. Since he sought Naaman's wealth, he would also have Naaman's disease. Thus, he could no longer serve Elisha.

6:1-8 -- The witness of Elisha turned many hearts back to God and the School of the Prophets was bursting at the seams. The students suggested going down as a group to the Jordan Valley, where tall straight trees grew in abundance and fetching back logs for construction of a larger facility. Elisha agreed to go with them on this trip. The role of prophet included relying of God for everything that mattered, but otherwise a carefree existence without significant private property to hinder service to God. Primitive axes were often nothing more than a strip or wedge of iron, sharp on one edge and squared flat on the other. A heavy club would be split at the top, the blade embedded sharp side out and the top of the split bound with a thong. Just as with modern axes, such a haft was regarded as easily replaceable, but the head was rather expensive. It was nothing for the thong to break and the head slip out of the handle, but this time it landed in the river. The man who lost it was intensely sorrowful for the loss it would mean to the owner. Even in such a minor thing, the Lord responds to the cry of a pure heart; the blade was recovered by Elisha tossing a stick in the water where it fell. The stick sank and the axe head floated to the top, instead.

6:9-12 -- In this last year of Jehoshaphat's life, Syria went to war against Israel. No doubt, Jehoram blamed Elisha for restoring the health of Syria's brilliant commanding general for making it possible. However, the Lord was not in this attack. The secret war counsels of the aging Ben-hadad were revealed to Elisha. This was a war of raids to provoke a defensive response. The plan was to ambush the troops of Israel when they came to aid the cities under attack. Elisha sent messages to Jehoram to prevent the army falling into these ambushes. Ben-hadad was sure he had a spy in his court. However, they reminded him the one who brought about the healing of Naaman was no sham shaman, but a true prophet of Jehovah, on Whose turf they brought war. For this God, the deepest thoughts of man were open. The Syrian spies in the Land of Israel could confirm Elisha's inexplicable insight.

6:13-18 -- After checking with these spies, it was reported Elisha was in Dothan. This town was about ten miles (16km) north of Samaria, just one ridgeline south of the Jezreel Valley. The city itself sat low in a high valley. During the night, a battalion or so of the Syrian army surrounded the town, lining the hillsides that sloped down to the city. By dawn, the new servant of Elisha was distraught; for it was obvious they had come for the Prophet. Elisha prayed the man would see the truth and the servant suddenly saw an even greater Army of Heaven on the ridges above the troops surrounding the city. When the Syrian troops converged on the city, Elisha prayed and they were struck blind in the sense they were hypnotized and under Elisha's power. Whatever he said was their reality.

6:19-23 -- Elisha told them they were at the wrong place and had not found their man. In a daze, they followed him the three hours' march to Samaria. He led them into the open square of the capital city, and then prayed they would come back to their senses. Realizing they were inside the city of their enemy, they could easily be killed by the large garrison of troops there. This Jehoram eagerly suggested, even honoring Elisha in his excitement. Instead, Elisha insisted they be treated honorably, feasted and sent away. The message to Syria could be no louder. God was fully against their current campaign, so they withdrew from raiding Israeli cities.

6:24-29 -- However, Ben-hadad could not give up his dream of conquering Israel and expanding his empire. The context assumes we know Jehoram still refused to pay more than lip-service to Jehovah. The drought returned and Syria took the opportunity to lay siege to Samaria, hoping the drought would humiliate the city and shorten the time required to win their surrender. In a very short time, people were reduced to eating anything organic and the price was quite high for something normally tossed out to vultures, or washed down the gutters. As the King passed through the city, he was importuned by a woman in dire straights. Before he even heard her claim, he told her only Jehovah could help her and He had apparently abandoned them, since there was no food to be had for anyone. Did she think there was so much as a floor sweeping of dirty grain, or a even the merest stain of wine that had not already been peeled from the dry wine vats? Then he invited her to share her yet-one-more tale of woe. What she told him was beyond even his jaded imagination. The woman complained her neighbor had entered into a deal to eat their children. After consuming hers, the other welched on the deal and hid her child.

6:30-33 -- The King was shocked by the depravity of this story and tore his robe in the universal symbol of distress. He continued walking along the top of the wall, now wearing sackcloth under his royal vestments. It was not enough Elisha had commanded the Syrian soldiers be set free, but they should also be feasted from the royal stores. Instead of delivering the Syrians into his hand, Elisha had freed them to come back and fight again and helped make the city less prepared for famine at the same time. In an outburst, he vowed to behead the Prophet. It happened Elisha was in the city, in his own dwelling, talking with the elders. As the King approached with his bodyguard, a servant went as usual before him to announce his presence. Even before the runner came in, Elisha proclaimed how the King was a true son of his murdering father, coming with the intent to murder him. He told the elders to seize the runner when he came in and bar the door. As they stood holding the door against the arrest party, the King shouted through the door. Since this dire situation was the doing of Jehovah, why should the King honor Him?

7:1-2 -- Elisha had an answer. By that time the next day, prices for food would be back to normal. That is, the whole thing would be over and daily life would be as it was before, the famine eased and the invaders gone. A chief minister of the King asked sarcastically how this could be. Experience alone indicated this promise from Elisha was mere babbling. Was Jehovah going to open windows in the sky to rain food on the city? It would still not be enough. Even God could not make that promise come true. Elisha solemnly promised the official would see it, but not live to enjoy it.

Chapter 9.12: Syria and Judah Decline

In about 853 BC, Assyria crossed the Euphrates and invaded the area far to the north of Damascus, near the Orontes River. There was a fierce battle at Qarqar in which the combined forces of Ben-hadad of Syria, the Omride Dynasty of Israel and Hamath backed by a collection of petty kings in that area blocked the Assyrians. Best we can tell, the battle was a draw. Shalamaneser of Assyria recorded a victory, but didn't come back to advance further for some years. We believe he exaggerated and was rebuilding after massive troop losses. Neither he nor his empire had lost interest in this area. They would eventually take revenge on all who met them at Qarqar.

2 Kings 7:3-8 -- We return to Syria's siege of Samaria, already weakened by famine. Recall that lepers were not allowed to enter homes of the healthy, or most cities. A city of any significant size might have several former residents stricken with leprosy, allowed to stay in hovels not far from the gates. Their families would typically bring food out to them. During this famine, there was no food to bring them. Even if they dared enter the city, sneaking in without giving the customary warning, they would still find no food. These four lepers decided the only thing left was to go out to the Syrian camp. If they were driven off, it would at least break the boredom. Given Syrian attitudes about lepers, they may well be received and fed in exchange for information about the city. In the worst case, they would be killed outright, which they decided would be a relief. The distance would have been at least 100 yards (91m), just out of bowshot from archers atop the city wall. Waiting until darkness began to fall, they crept out cautiously only to find the Syrian camp empty.

Sometime during the day, the Syrians had deserted their camp in haste, having heard what they thought was the sound of an approaching hoard of chariots. There were only two nations capable of fielding a mass of chariots then. The tattered remains of the Second Hittite Empire, who had introduced iron weapons and chariots to that area, were still quite powerful and numerous. The petty kings who claimed the legacy of the Hittites in far northern Mesopotamia were known to hire out their armies as mercenaries. The Egyptians were not mercenaries, but could also field a huge number of chariots. While no friend of Jews, they were even less friendly with Syria. An army of infantry could not get close enough to effectively strike without drawing notice in advance. An army of chariots could camp far away and attack unexpectedly after a traveling all day, as they could advance faster than a runner bearing the alarm. The Syrians fled before they could find out. Thus the lepers found the place deserted and immediately ate to the full, and then began plundering.

7:9-15 -- Their conscience struck them before long. They realized, as well, that if they delayed until dawn to inform the defenders of the city, they would justly deserve punishment. The lifting of a siege against a starving city was not something that could wait until morning. They went in the darkness of early evening and reported to the soldiers at the gate. The message was passed to the King, who decided it was a trap, much like the one sprung on the Moabites in the Valley of Zered just a few years before. The need being so urgent, the commanders suggested a search party using the few horses left. We note they had already been eating donkeys, which were also not kosher. Two chariots went out, each pulled by two horses. They circled the camp and followed the main road toward the Jordan crossing, on the way back to Damascus. All along the route were the kinds of personal property dropped by men fleeing in haste for their lives. They came back and reported what they found to the King.

7:16-19 -- Though it was probably near midnight now, the residents of the city rushed out to plunder the camp. That there was no battle fought prevented soldiers from claiming prior right. The Syrians had been exceedingly well supplied and prices in the city quickly came down to normal. It was also noted the fate of the officer, here called third in command from the King, who sarcastically commented to Elisha that afternoon that God Himself could not have provided such food supply. He had been assigned command of the gate, which would include the open market square near the gate, to keep order before the mob was released. When the city got word the siege was lifted, they rushed the gates and trampled this officer to death. This is recorded in the narrative along with a recount of the verbal exchange he had with Elisha.

8:1-6 -- Sometime before all this, Elisha had warned a friend of bad times -- the noble lady of Shunem who had been such a good supporter of Elisha. She it was to whom God had given a son, then raised him from death by Elisha's hand. Eventually she became a widow. The context of the story in chapter 4 indicated the woman was considerably younger than her husband and this was not uncommon at that time and place. Elisha went to her with warning the famine had just begun and would last another seven years. She moved her household to Philistia. The coastal plains would probably have been crowded by displaced Jews, but Philistia had been quite subdued since their last venture (ch. 3). With famine just beginning, she would have left without finding a buyer. The property would be considered abandoned and occupied by whomever dared make the first move to take it, most likely some less noble family. Returning after the famine, she found herself locked out of her own home. Having no husband to make a case before the King, she naturally went to Elisha.

This was probably not long after the Syrians had fled. King Jehoram was feeling a bit of admiration for the prophet who had proclaimed their deliverance. Jehoram had asked the disgraced Gehazi, former servant of Elisha, about his master's other miracles. While recounting the story of the Shunamite lady and the resuscitation of her son, she appeared with Elisha to make her case before the King. Gehazi pointed this out to the King, so he naturally asked her to confirm the story. He was so swayed by the tale he not only ordered her lands returned to her, as she asked, but added that she should be paid rent from the profits gained by the occupiers.

8:7-15 -- Some twenty years earlier, Elijah had returned from his depression in the Sinai Wilderness and anointed Hazael to replace Ben-hadad over Damascus and Jehu to end the Omride Dynasty in Israel (1 Kings 19:15-16). The man Elijah had anointed his own successor would now stir these men to claim their thrones. It was about 847 BC when Elisha went off to Damascus for a visit. At that time, Ben-hadad had become very ill and believed he might die. When he heard the famous Elisha was in town, who had healed his Field Marshal, Naaman, he sent messengers with a much larger gift to inquire of Jehovah if he was dying. The much larger gift, requiring forty camels to bear, reflects his claim to be a petty emperor. The man in charge of the delegation was Hazael, Ben-hadad's chamberlain.

So great was the respect for Elisha Hazael addressed the prophet as superior to the King. Elisha gave to Hazael an unexpected answer to Ben-hadad's question. His words make clear he saw right into the heart of the man. First, he knew Hazael had already planned to kill his master. He told him, in essence to carry out that plan and lie to the King by telling him he would recover. Then Elisha stared at him until the Chamberlain was embarrassed. Tears came into the prophet's eyes and Hazael, eager to say anything to deflect attention from his shame, asked why the weeping. Elisha described Hazael as revealed by Jehovah, a man who was already planning to make war on Israel and the kind of man who would not simply accept victory and surrender, but would execute his prisoners of war, murder male children and rip open the wombs of pregnant women. Hazael would try to exterminate the entire nation of Israel by killing every male and any who might eventually be born male. Hazael protested he was unworthy of the attention of God and could not bring himself to such acts. Elisha's only answer was to remind Hazael he was going to become King of Syria. So Hazael returned to Court, lied to his king, and then suffocated him to death the next day, using a wet blanket. Ben-hadad lacked the strength even to uncover his face at that point. Ancient texts in Assyria mention the event, referring to the usurper Hazael as "the son of nobody."

2 Chronicles 21:1-11 -- This passage parallels 2 Kings 8:16-24, but includes more detail. It was during that same year of Ben-hadad's death that the aging Jehoshaphat of Judah died. He had passed much of his authority since 853 BC to his son, named Jehoram like the King of Israel. The other sons were given wealth and authority over major cities within the realm. This Jehoram of Judah also sinned like his namesake of the Omrides. We are told he took the scepter at age 32 and reigned until he was 40 (848-841 BC). As soon as his father passed, he hunted down his brothers and murdered them. Not content with that, he liquidated anyone remotely in line for the throne. Apparently his sinful path was in large degree due to his wife, Athaliah, a daughter of Jezebel and Ahab. Rather than take it out on the nation of Judah, the Lord kept His promise and found other ways to punish their King.

For example, the dominance over Edom was lost. We aren't sure, but it seems the name Zair was the latest pronunciation for Seir, the mountain in Edom on which the ancient capital stood. As a response to their revolt, Jehoram took his army down and camped in preparation to lay siege to the city. The Edomite defense forces moved in to surround them, preparing an ambush for dawn. Jehoram surprised them by attacking in the darkness before the Edomites could get in place. Yet the Edomites remained in a state of active revolt from that time on. Their restiveness incited Libnah, a large city of the Philistines, to revolt as well. Meanwhile, the king sponsored pagan shrines in high places near Jerusalem, following the same behavior as Ahab, his father-in-law.

21:12-15 -- So it was odd timing when a long-delayed letter from Elijah was delivered to him. It's safe to guess Elisha kept it for this time. Elijah left the earth about one year into this king's co-regency with his father. The letter condemned Jehoram for the same sins Elijah so actively fought under Ahab. His punishment would be a nasty intestinal ailment that afflicted his entire sin-stained household. It would be so severe his intestines would burst from his body -- most likely something akin to dysentery.

21:16-17 -- Of course, Jehoram of Judah did not heed the Word of the Lord. So, late in his reign the Philistines as a whole rebelled and hired some Arabian raiders who had been living in the Sinai between Philistia and Egypt (ruled at that time by Ethiopia), to come up with them and raid across Judah. They managed to break into Jerusalem and pillage the royal palace, murdering the king's sons, leaving only his youngest, Jehoahaz (also spelled Ahaziah).

During this time frame, we know from the words of the Prophet Obadiah that Edom committed a major crime. While never long at peace, the Edomites and Jews were blood kin. By custom, while they might fight and kill each other, neither would attempt to occupy the land of the other. There was an assumption they would attempt to ward off common enemies. Obadiah tells us Edom had sunk so far below any hint of righteousness they willingly sold out to the enemies of their cousins. During the attacks by Philistia and the Arabs, Edom captured all the civilian refugees departing the area. They then sold these people as slaves to with Philistia as a broker. It's rather difficult to explain how heinous a crime this was. The popular response at that time would be equivalent to any modern day atrocity, on a par perhaps with the My Lai Massacre. It wasn't even for the money, but sheer hatred and perversity. For this act favorable to Philistia, they were permitted to participate in the plunder of Jerusalem. It's not known when Obadiah the Prophet lived and wrote, but it is quite certain he refers to this event.

21:18-20 -- Perhaps the raiders carried diseases with them for which Jehoram had no resistance. He became painfully ill, lingered in this state, declining over two years. His death came as a relief to all and he was unmourned. He was buried in the city cemetery, but not among the royal tombs.

Chapter 9.13: Judgment and Chaos

With the death of Ben-hadad in Damascus things were naturally a little chaotic before Hazael could assert full control from the throne. Taking advantage of the turmoil, Jehoram of Israel managed to re-take Ramoth-gilead. He persuaded the new king of Judah, Ahaziah, to join him. While they succeeded, both were injured in battle when Hazael counter-attacked from Damascus (2 Kings 8:28-29). They managed to hold the city, though. Jehoram was worse off and Ahaziah came to visit him recovering in the summer palace at Jezreel. The timing was perfect for a move of God's hand.

2 Chronicles 22:1-9 -- We saw the end of Jehoram of Judah, much to everyone's relief. His youngest son, Ahaziah, was the sole survivor of the Arabian raid on Jerusalem. The elders made him king, which may indicate some dispute over succession. We note this passage says he was 42, but 2 Kings 8 makes him 22, reminding us numerical corruption is frequent in Hebrew texts. Given the context, the younger age is more likely. His choice to follow the evil ways of his father and mother justified God giving him not even a full year on the throne. He had chosen to continue using the services of the Omride counselors his father had brought into Jerusalem. After the battle at Ramoth-gilead, Jehoram retired to the palace in Jezreel, where his young nephew, Ahaziah, came to see him. What follows received expanded treatment in 2 Kings 9.

2 Kings 9:1-10 -- Elisha sent one of his students to handle the next task. Recall that Elijah had already once anointed Jehu to destroy the Omride Dynasty and become of King of Israel (1 Kings 19:16ff) some 24 years earlier. This reaffirmation of that anointing was to stir immediate action. Jehu had been left in command of the garrison occupying the recently re-taken Ramoth-gilead. The student prophet was told to do the act, and then flee immediately without bothering to close the door as he went out.

Upon arriving at the garrison headquarters, the young prophet asked to see the commander in private for a message from Jehovah. Confirming it was for the commander himself, they went inside the private quarters. After the ceremonial pouring of oil on the Jehu's head, the student prophesied that God Himself had anointed him King of Israel. He was chosen to avenge the murder of His prophets at the hand of Ahab and Jezebel. No living male was to escape; the entire extended family was to meet the same fate as that of Jeroboam and Baasha. Finally, Jezebel was to be left for dog food. Then the young prophet fled.

9:11-13 -- As Jehu came down the stairs to the common area, his subordinates were waiting with baited breath. Having seen the student flee, they asked what the "madman" had to say. He played it off as something they had staged. They would have none of it, insisting he divulge what was obviously something important and unknown to them. When he told them about being anointed King of Israel, they seized the moment to proclaim their support. This was done in the customary fashion, where they laid their garments for him to walk on and blew shofars to draw attention to the fact, shouting in the streets that all should now join the acclamation.

9:14-16 -- Jehu was far from arrogant, but quite a man of action. His orders rested on the will of the people. That is, if they were going to make him king, there were certain things that went with that. It was well known Jehoram, like any good king, especially a son of Ahab, kept spies all over his realm. Jehu commanded the gates of the city closed to all civilian traffic so that none of those spies slipped out to report the rebellion. Then he left himself with a company of trusted aides in heavy battle chariots for Jezreel.

9:17-20 -- Jehu lost no time in going straight to the summer palace at Jezreel. He drove his chariot like a madman. The watchman in the tower saw him afar off, coursing the wide flat valley of Jezreel. Yelling down to his superior, he described the rapidly approaching company of chariots. Having just come from a battle at Ramoth-gilead, the king was concerned what this might be. A single chariot would be a messenger almost certainly signaling new trouble there. A whole company made him uneasy and he sent a light chariot of his own to meet the approaching group to see what was afoot. When the messenger delivered his request for news, Jehu responded it didn't matter and ordered the charioteer to follow in his train. We see here that Jehu was obviously quite popular and influential in the military services of Israel, for the messenger obeyed, probably aware of what it all meant. The tower watch reported what he saw and another messenger followed, again enlisted in the new order of things. Upon seeing this, the watchman noted by now he could tell it was Jehu in the lead.

9:21-26 -- Jehoram knew there was in trouble, but not what kind. He ordered his own chariot readied. Both kings went out in their chariots and confronted Jehu on the garden plot Ahab had taken from Naboth. When he greeted Jehu, his question was more than just the polite, "Shalom!" It was a genuine question as to what was the situation for the kingdom. Jehu's response was to bluntly declare there could be no "shalom" so long as the Queen Mother Jezebel was alive and active. With a shout of warning to Ahaziah treachery was afoot, Jehoram turned and fled. Jehu had an arrow ready and drew his bow full length; the arrow struck Jehoram square in the back and pierced his heart. With no driver, the chariot halted. Jehu, recalling the message from Jehovah condemning Ahab for taking Naboth's vineyard, ordered his captain Bidkar to dump the body in that plot of land. This would fulfill the prophecy of blood for blood on that soil.

9:27-29 -- It was clear the idea was to exterminate every relative of Ahab. This branch of the House of David had become completely intertwined with the House of Omri. As a grandson of Ahab, Ahaziah fled and the story is a little confused at first between the texts in Kings and Chronicles. After fleeing the execution of his uncle Jehoram outside Jezreel, he headed south to Samaria. The young king had a good head start, as he had ducked behind the garden house to avoid being an easy target. Ahaziah hid among the nobles in the Israeli capital, but Jehu's troops found him. They dragged him back to Jehu and the two met outside Ibleam, about halfway between the two royal cities of Jezreel and Samaria. There the road climbed steeply to the City of Ibleam and it was where Jehu ordered one of his soldiers to shoot Ahaziah with an arrow while he stood in his chariot, same as Jehoram. It was not immediately fatal, so he fled to the fortress at Megiddo. It was there he died sometime later. His body was returned to Jerusalem for burial.

9:30-37 -- There is no doubt Jezebel was quite a bit younger than Ahab when they were married. We aren't certain of Jehoram's age when Jehu killed him, but it seems Jehu the usurper was a good bit older, having served as an adult under Ahab. Thus, Jezebel may well have been a bit younger than Jehu, certainly no older. For her to pretend to entice him by her beauty to let her live was not unreasonable. Calling to him from the top floor window of the palace near the gate, she attempted to stop him by reminding him that Zimri, a century before, had committed regicide and lived but a week or so. She pretended to care about Jehu's future. He called out to the servants and asked if any supported him. A handful of eunuchs, male servants committed to serving in the royal harem, signaled readiness to give him their allegiance. He ordered them to throw Jezebel out the window. He was positioned on the pavement just below the window and her impact splattered blood everywhere. He immediately turned his horses to trample her body. By now the entire palace serving staff were aware of the new order of things and served him as king. After his first royal meal in the summer palace, he ordered a proper burial for Jezebel as royal family. When the servants reported finding only a few fragments, he remarked it was according to the prophecy of the student of Elisha. The parts they found were symbolic: she was so evil, even scavenging dogs wouldn't eat some parts. The head in ancient times was anointed as the place of the mind and memory, the hands as symbols of power and action, with feet as taking the path to which one was committed.

10:1-8 -- Eventually Jehu went down to Samaria to make a clean sweep. First, he gave the city elders a chance to decide whether they would accept him as king. He sent a letter instructing them to decide who should succeed Jehoram so that they could rally around him if they intended to resist Jehu. They wrote back asking what they could do to indicate their capitulation. As any good king, Ahab had parceled his numerous sons out to be raised by trusted noblemen. This kept the lesser sons out of the heir's way, but insured they would be trained for any royal service. It was a mark of honor to the noble families and served to enhance their loyalty by giving them greater prestige. Jehu told the city leaders he wanted the seventy surviving sons of Ahab beheaded. As proof, they were to deliver those heads to him by the same time the next day. When those heads were delivered, he had them piled in two heaps on either side of the gate of Jezreel.

10:9-11 -- The next morning, Jehu called together the local leaders and servants of the Court. Such an assembly was normally held in the public square inside the city gates. With the two piles of rotting heads as a backdrop, he gave a speech. First, he told the people something equivalent to, "You be the judge." He freely admitted conspiring to usurp the throne by murdering the king, but disavowed direct responsibility for the execution of the surviving Omrides. He spoke of how this was all according to the Word of God. Thus, the continued executions would be the will of both God and the people. Jehu slaughtered everyone close to the former royal household.

10:12-14 -- Somewhere on the way between Jezreel and Samaria was a large sheep shearing floor with a building for storing the wool. At this place, Jehu encountered a large group of important-looking folks. When asked, they revealed they were first cousins of Ahaziah, whose body had not yet returned from Megiddo. Thus, they had no idea what was going on. He suddenly ordered his troops to capture them. They were trooped down to the well, away from the road, where all 42 men were slaughtered. This represents the entire surviving male population of the royal household in Judah, with a few exceptions.

10:15-17 -- We recall a clan of Moses' in-laws, named Kenites, had joined the Exodus. We know them as Midianites, cousins of Israel through Ishmael. Those who joined the Exodus were adopted into the Tribe of Judah. We can't be certain of their status under the Covenant, but they had been unquestionably faithful to Jehovah since the time of Abraham. Scribes and coppersmiths by profession, they retained their nomadic lifestyle, moving freely on neutral terms around the area. The head of the family at one point was named Rechab and he had formalized their unique identity. He gave orders that they should ever live in tents, never drink wine and always provide refuge to those wounded and sick. It was one of their numbers who had welcomed Sisera during the judgeship of Deborah (Judges 4:14ff). On the way to Samaria, Jehu met one of their leaders named Jehonadab. This Kenite would have been a major figure in opposition to the Omride dynasty, faithful to Jehovah. Jehu asked if Jehonadab approved of this purge, implying he wanted to forge a political alliance. Jehonadab accepted and joined Jehu in his chariot. Entering Samaria, this was an unmistakable signal to all. Thus, the executions in Samaria that followed gained a far greater credence by the old opposition party. It was indeed a fulfillment of Jehovah's command.

Chapter 9.14: Divided Monarchy Declines

The year 841 BC saw tremendous changes in the Divided Kingdom. Jehu slaughtered the royal households of Israel and Judah. In doing this, he broke the bond of alliance between the two kingdoms. He also broke the alliance with Phoenicia on the coast. Fifty years earlier, Ahab sent 2000 chariots to fight Shalamaneser at Qarqar. Jehu's son will send tribute to Assyria, breaking what few ties there were with Syria. In every way, destroying the works of an idolatrous Omride Dynasty, he destroyed the civil peace. That in itself was no sin, but his failure was in turning away from Jehovah's guidance and power.

2 Kings 10:18-28 -- Jehu devised a sneaky plan. He declared in Samaria that his service to Melkart would make Ahab's household seem disinterested. In preparation for a massive great offering, he required every priest and every serious devotee of Baal to gather in the temple. It seemed legitimate, even to the point of passing out the sacred robes for all the participants. Once everything and everyone was ready, he ordered them all to double check that no follower of Jehovah had slipped in. Then, he stepped outside and ordered his select warriors to slaughter everyone in the temple. It was strictly enforcing Covenant Law to slaughter the priests of Melkart, but slaughtering all the worshipers was going overboard. There was nothing wrong with destroying the pagan temple.

10:29-36 -- In the end we see that Jehu never really cared about Jehovah. His was a rule of military brutality. While exceeding the mandate by killing so many might be forgivable, his adherence to mere politics disqualified him. The Lord gave him a chance to do right, but Jehu turned to the cult centers founded by Jeroboam for purely political reasons. He was granted a dynasty of four generations on the strength of his initial obedience. For his tossing away the last chance for Israel to turn around, during his reign Hazael began seizing the East Bank of the Jordan bit by bit. By the end of his 28 year reign, Israel had lost nearly all of Gilead and the grassy highlands.

11:1-3 -- The parallel passage is 2 Chronicles 22 and 23 for this section. Eventually the body of Ahaziah was returned to Jerusalem. Word of the execution of his adult cousins also arrived about the same time. It was the end of the line for those who worshiped Melkart, except for one: Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. She finished off the younger cousins of Ahaziah and any of his children, but one escaped. The infant named Joash (also Jehoash) was hidden by his aunt from grandmother's wrath. His rescuer was Jehosheba, daughter of Jehoram, half-sister of Ahaziah and wife of Jehoiada, the High Priest of God. The infant boy was quickly transferred to the custody of the priests in the Temple of Solomon. There he was raised during the six years his grandmother reigned.

The text says little of this, but Athaliah was hardly idle. She built up a temple to Melkart and established Jerusalem as the new center of his worship. She made every effort to prevent support for the Temple of Jehovah, but couldn't penetrate the security to get at Joash. That she was so poorly supported by residents of the city and elders from all over simply goaded her to greater wrath. Tradition indicates she committed a number of atrocities, but we cannot be certain of the details.

11:4-12 -- Jehoiada was also busy as High Priest. 2 Chronicles 23 provides some details. The commanders of the Cherthites, the Royal Bodyguard, began campaigning politically across the realm. They drew in the Levites and some of the priests who had been forcibly retired from temple service under the previous three kings. By the time the boy king was seven, there were enough supporters to field a very substantial guard rotation. They were armed from the ancient weapons stashed in the Temple by David and Solomon. On a certain Sabbath, the boy was brought out to the pillars of the Temple. There he was given a copy of the Law of Moses, in a literal fulfillment of the Law itself. The guards who typically prevented the unconsecrated from entering the Court of Priests were actually more of a guard to prevent interference with the ceremony. On reserve were the other two shifts of priests and Levites, who had been kept around instead of being dismissed after their service. Thus, the maximum personnel available during a rotation of duties were still on hand. This was sufficient strength to enable the declaration that Joash was the King.

11:13-16 -- Such an announcement would naturally be well received by the population in attendance at Sabbath worship; it was probably a high holy day, as well. The noise attracted even more support from the less important rabble in the city. The increasing racket drew the attention of the Queen. She forced her way somewhat into the Temple grounds, stopping at the terrace that separated the Court of Women and the Court of Israel. When she began to scream about treason, Jehoiada ordered her removed from the Temple grounds before executing her. The guards marched her east to the Horse Gate and killed her. Anyone foolish enough to support her was also executed.

11:17-21 -- So it was in 835 BC, Athaliah was executed and a seven-year-old boy was placed on the Throne of David. Under Jehoiada's tutelage, the boy swore a covenant with the Lord and the nation. Both King and people would serve Jehovah. To seal the deal, the crowd went to the temple lavished by Athaliah and tore it down, executing the priest. Such action would have provoked the few supporters of Athaliah left, causing them to identify themselves by opposing the destruction. Once all was right, there was a ceremonial march from the Temple to the Royal Court. The land had peace with Athaliah gone.

Chapter 9.15: Syrian Threat Continues

The boy-king Joash was faithful to Jehovah only so long as his mentor, Jehoida the High Priest lived. His sins bring a measure of destruction to Judah. Meanwhile, things in Israel begin to turn around.

2 Chronicles 24:1-3 -- The parallel passage is 2 Kings 12. We are given a quick overview of Joash's reign. During the life of Jehoida, the High Priest, this king did well. When the elder priest died, sometime after 813 BC, things went downhill fast. Even during his tutelage, the people were allowed to practice an impure worship of Jehovah on the various high places throughout Judah.

24:4-14 -- Sometime around the death of Jehoida, Joash decided the vandalism of Athaliah's followers on the Temple should be repaired. The general lack of maintenance was obvious even without the intentional damage. Joash ordered the priests and Levites to divert some of the Temple income to the repairs. He even commissioned them to go out and solicit a building fund offering throughout the realm. However, the Temple staff had long done things their own way and never seemed to find enough extra beyond their own needs and current daily expenses. There seemed no time to collect anything not brought in by worshipers. After a couple of years of this, Joash came down hard on the Temple staff. He ordered them to specifically collect the half-shekel Temple Tax (Exodus 30:14-16), which, up to that point, had been technically embezzled for other purposes. He forced them to apply it to facilities maintenance as the Law of Moses required. He further ordered they add to that any offerings made as substitutionary atonement -- first born sons, various accidental ritual defilements, etc. -- along with any freewill offerings specifically given for the building fund.

This was all collected in a designated chest, with a slot in the top to receive the offerings. At this time, there was no regular coinage. A shekel of silver was a standard weight of about 0.4 ounces (11.4g) and most tokens were square-cut from a standard thickness sheet of hammered silver. These tokens were various fractions or multiples of a shekel. It's quite likely the sheets produced for this purpose had lines embossed on the surface to mark these gradations. The chest was guarded, counted each day. At first the collections were taken next to the altar, but since the atonement offerings could not be brought into the Temple court itself, the chest was moved to the outer gate.

Joash announced throughout the kingdom the purpose of the chest and offerings, which was favorably received. They made it a point to bring extra for the offering during this time of renewal of the Covenant. The King and appointed managers of the offering were thrilled with the strong response. With an urgency that bypassed the normal accounting procedures, the daily offering was given directly to the maintenance crews. We note they were wholly honest in their dealings, so the Temple was restored. Not until the buildings were up to standard was any of the silver used to replace the Temple furnishings defiled by Athaliah.

24:15-27 -- Within a few years, Jehoida died of old age at 130 years. In honor of his faithful service to the House of David, he was given a place in the Royal Cemetery. The higher ranking noblemen of Judah, usually referred to as the Princes, came to visit the King. As a class, they were most likely to chafe under the Law of Moses. They lobbied the King to soften some of Jehoidah's rules, taking advantage of Joash's vanity. In no time they had rebuilt their shrines to Baal and Ashtarte. They led astray the citizens and brought God's condemnation on the whole realm.

Several prophets gave warning this could be fatal. Zechariah, the son of Jehoida, Joash's mentor, was one of them. His message embarrassed and infuriated the King. As a priest, he was in an excellent position to use the Altar platform for a few sermons. During one of these messages, he was knocked off and stoned to death. Jesus makes mention of his death between the Altar and the Temple (Luke 11:51). It was during this time we probably have the prophecy of Joel. He seems to have warned of the approaching army of Syria as a manifestation of the Day of the Lord, a judgment on sin. Apparently this was preceded by ample warning in the form of a massive locusts swarm ("Joel's Army") followed by drought.

This accords well with what happened during the same year of Joash's treachery against the Zechariah. Hazael of Damascus had gone down and destroyed Philistine Gath, then turned and marched toward Jerusalem. Along that route, he passed several strongholds of Judean nobles. He plundered their homes and cities, and took hostages. Presented with this threat, Joash stripped the Temple and palace to buy him off. The Army of Judah, having starved a year or two and living in sin, were hardly a match for the single Syrian battalion that defeated them in the field, and then camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. Taking the tribute, they left the city after abusing and wounding all the able men of the royal court. Given this all was the result of arrogant sin, it was no surprise Jehoahaz was executed a short time later by members of his own bodyguard, who took advantage of his condition. He was succeeded by his son, Amaziah, in 796 BC.

2 Kings 13:1-9 -- During the long, 40 year reign of Joash in Judah, Israel went through two more kings. Jehu died in 814 BC and was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz. No wiser than his predecessors, he maintained the rival temples at Bethel, Gath-Ephraim, Dan and elsewhere. During his sixteen years on the throne, Jehoahaz found himself constantly under the thumb of Hazael of Damascus. Having long ago lost the East Jordan lands, Syria now began raiding and ruling parts of the West Bank. Eventually Jehoahaz realized only Jehovah could deliver him; he began praying and fasting. The Lord responded, sending some unnamed hero who stirred the puny Army of Israel to victory. However, due to his leaving all the pagan shrines in place, the king did not see this deliverance before he died in 798 BC.

13:10-19 -- Another Joash (also spelled Jehoash) succeeded his father, Jehoahaz. Thus, Judah and Israel were briefly ruled again by kings with the same name. By this time, the ruling class can no longer comprehend that golden calves cannot by used to worship Jehovah. The practice is deeply entrenched, though we see no return to Baal worship, yet. During this reign, Elisha the Prophet lay on his death bed. Coming to pay his respects, the King wept over him. His comment about the "Chariot of Israel" translates roughly to the idea that, when Elisha was gone, Israel would lose her one best source of enlightenment and strength.

Elisha had one last message. He instructed the King to take up his bow and arrows and bring them to the bedside. While the King held the bow, Elisha wrapped his hands around the King's. He then had him open the east window of the room and shoot an arrow out. Just so, the Army of Syria would fall at Aphek, a popular battleground. Then Elisha told the King to grasp the rest of the arrows in a bundle and strike the ground to symbolize laying his enemies in the dust. Failing completely to grasp the significance, the King responds rather perfunctorily, simply doing as told instead of acting from any passion for the nation. He stopped after three strokes. Elisha angrily censured him for failing to show any real zeal. While he would defeat Syria three times, he would not destroy her. Again, for lack of royal interest, Jehovah would not end the threat of Damascus.

13:20-25 -- Even in death, Elisha's miracles prove the faithfulness of God. After Elisha's funeral, Moab comes up and raids, most likely in Elisha's hometown area of Abel-meholah. There was an Israeli honor guard preparing to inter a soldier who died in the fighting. They spied a band of Moabite raiders, dropped the body in Elisha's grave, and gave pursuit. The body touched the skeletal remains of Elisha and promptly revived, ready to join the battle again. We note again the Syrians had been harassing Israel all during the reign of Jehoahaz. His earnest plea before he died was heard and Hazael died, probably killed in that first battle of Aphek prophesied by Elisha on his death bed. Hazael was succeeded by his son, Ben-hadad II, who continued the losing streak. Not just the West Bank cities, but Joash of Israel also recovered the East Bank cities lost to Hazael long before. In three successive battles, Gilead was restored to Israel. Given the overlapping dates of Joash and his son, Jeroboam II, in co-regency we can safely assume the latter had a lot to do with these military victories, perhaps "the deliverer" mentioned earlier.

Chapter 9.16: Depths and Recovery

While the story begins with the wars of Amaziah, King of Judah, he suffers severe losses. They came at the hands of Israel. The Lord gives the northern kingdom one last chance to turn. The parallel passage is 2 Kings 14 and part of 15. After reaching its nadir, Judah later rises from the ashes to prosperity under Uzziah.

2 Chronicles 25:1-4 -- In 796 BC, Amaziah takes the throne of Judah. His reign is described as half-way faithful in the beginning. He fails to assert his authority to break down the paganized shrines to Jehovah on the high places, but it appears he clamped down on the pagan worship of the Princes of Judah. Upon settling all the legal requirements to actually reign, he immediately executes his father's murders. However, it is noted he strictly follows the Law of Moses in not executing their entire households, something common in those times.

25:5-10 -- Right away, Amaziah took a military census, reorganized, and then mustered the forces. His army was far reduced from former times. This should indicate a general decline in population, as well. Asa in his day (ch. 14) had fielded 580,000, representing a healthy population of at least 2 million. 125 years later we have Amaziah's 300,000 troops, just over half. The primary weapons were heavy spear and shield. Raiding the royal treasury, he hired another 100,000 from Ephraim. His plans were to reconquer Edom, which had been free for some 50 years. No doubt this was also in retribution for the hideous act described by Obadiah. Amaziah promptly received a visit from a prophet. He was warned that whatever he planned should not include pagans from his northern neighbor. If he brought them along, God would not prosper any military action. Without them, God would surely deliver victory. When Amaziah asked about the money already spent, the prophet assured him Jehovah could easily replace it, with more beside. The Ephraimite troops were dismissed and took it as a grave insult.

25:11-13 -- After making sure the troops were fully equipped and supplied, Amaziah marched to the southern end of the Dead Sea, the Valley of Salt. There he met and defeated the army of Edom. During the mop up that followed, he took their capital, Selah, today known as Petra. Edom lost 10,000 casualties in battle and as many in executions. They were thrown from a cliff. The victory is according to the prophet's promise from the Lord, but the executions were probably excessive. Meanwhile, the mercenaries from Ephraim decided to conduct their own war, raiding the cities of northwestern Benjamin (this "Samaria" is clearly not the capital of Israel). They murdered and plundered disgracefully.

25:14-16 -- The idols captured from Edom were probably made of precious materials. Instead of stripping them down for the treasure, they were left intact like trophies, and eventually became a spiritual snare. Amaziah made them his own household gods, the same gods that had no power to prevent his victory over Edom. When a prophet pointed this out to him, the king ordered him to shut up, lest he be killed. The prophet's final words were to note he realized the Lord had already judged Amaziah and there was no going back.

25:17-28 -- Amaziah was feeling powerful after his victory over Edom. He decided to challenge Joash of Israel, no doubt as retribution for what the mercenaries of Ephraim had done. His message demanded that Joash appear before him as tributary, or face him in battle. Joash responded by warning him of his arrogance. Having dispatched the great armies of Syria, the military power of Israel was well proven. Amaziah was warned his glory over Edom would be lost by his over-reaching. Amaziah insisted, it is noted because the Lord had determined to judge him, and set the battlefield in Beth-shemesh, down in the Valley of Sorek. The two kings did indeed meet face to face, but the battle went to Israel. The army of Judah disbanded in defeat.

Having captured Amaziah, Joash dragged him up Mount Zion, making him watch while the troops of Israel tore down the entire northern end of the wall of Jerusalem. Symbolically, this declared the city open to her northern neighbors, to come and go as they pleased. Joash plundered the palace and Temple, as well. Finally, he also took hostages, including Obed-edom, the family of Levitical porters and singers. A few years later (782 BC), Joash died. His son, Jeroboam II, having already served some years as co-regent, took the throne and was very prosperous. Amaziah lived another 15 years until 767 BC. However, the text is a bit fuzzy here. A plot arose against the king in reaction to his paganism, reaching fever pitch with the humiliating loss to Israel. His son, Azariah, had been made co-regent as early as 790 BC, starting when he was 16 years old. This was rather irregular and indicates the urgency of the rulers to dump Amaziah. It places all his actions in a short, six-year time frame. The nature of the plot forced Amaziah to flee, a sort of forced retirement to the city of Lachish, far southwest of Jerusalem. It was straight west of Hebron, on the main road to Egypt. Amaziah must have stirred up trouble eventually, as the conspirators sent assassins to finish him and haul his body back home to the royal cemetery.

26:1-5 -- Azariah is introduced by his other name, Uzziah. Both names mean approximately the same thing: "Jehovah is his Help." Upon entering his co-regency at age 16, the princes and nobles stopped paying any attention to his father. Once Amaziah was entombed, Uzziah went to work. His first notable act was to restore Eloth, part of the mining and shipping complex formerly known as Ezion-geber, down on the Gulf of Aqaba. This would bring trade, prosperity and a resultant population growth. With his reign beginning at his co-regency, he ruled 52 years, one of the longest careers. As a young lad, while the priest Zechariah still lived (ch. 24:20ff), Uzziah began seeking the Lord. His career prospered as long as that continued. His only failing was leaving the paganized shrines to Jehovah, called "high places."

26:6-15 -- Uzziah was a very able ruler. He reasserted Judah's power over the Philistines, destroyed the walls around their chief cities, and then built garrisons with supporting villages near those conquered cities. The Philistine allies, nomadic tribes out in the southern wilderness, were also pacified. Even the Ammonites paid tribute to Judah. Jerusalem was rebuilt and fortified with corner towers. He also built towered forts in the southern wilderness and dug lots of wells. He even kept his own cattle there and in the Ammonite plateaus east of the Jordan, which had been lost to Israel previously. He planted his own vineyards in the other Carmel, south of Hebron. We are told he loved farming. His army was better organized than most before it, with a large cadre of 2600 noble warriors commanding as many as 307,500 conscripts. Uzziah was the first we know of who provided armor for his conscripts, as well as a wide array of weapons. If that were not enough, he hired engineers to build primitive catapults and ballistae (launching giant arrows) for the towers of Jerusalem.

26:16-23 -- Sadly, all this went to his head. Uzziah must have thought himself the equal of David, for he went into the Temple to burn incense like a priest. The Sons of Kohath, Keepers of the Temple, led by their chief with the same name as the King (but consistently called Azariah), did their duty precisely in guarding the Holy Place from unfit men. The Kohathites were probably outfitted as guards, so this large company of 80 was not to be taken lightly. They blocked Uzziah from the Altar of Incense and the confrontation was ugly. They ordered him to leave, as only consecrated priests and Levites could even enter the Temple, much less burn incense. As Uzziah's anger flared, so did God's wrath, in the form of leprosy that replaced his red angry skin with white, beginning prominently with his forehead. At this, they immediately hustled him out, as this made his presence downright defiling. They need not have pushed, for in his sudden apprehension of fear, he ran from the Temple courts. From that day, he was forced to live alone in separate quarters, never to enter the Temple plaza again. His son Jotham took up co-regency in public royal duties, in 750 BC.

Uzziah lived another decade. We note at the end of his reign in 740 BC, a young relative, traditionally believed a half-brother of King Amaziah, was called to prophesy: Isaiah.

Chapter 9.17: Three Published Prophets

The reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam II together are referred to as the Indian Summer for the nation, a last chance before the storms. Both kingdoms experienced significant prosperity as a declared gift of God, with a final opportunity to turn around. Uzziah did quite well with his chance; his realm lasts for quite some time after him. Jeroboam rejected Jehovah and Israel soon disappeared. Having already mentioned Obadiah and Joel, we will examine those prophetic books that appear to have been written during this time.

Hosea -- From the content of his prophesy, we can discern Hosea ministered roughly between 750 and 725 BC. He almost surely knew Isaiah and was contemporary with Amos and Jonah, as well. Hosea personally experienced what it felt for God to deal with Israel. He married a known harlot and named his children as symbols of Israel's unfaithfulness. He eventually divorced her, but love triumphed as he marries her again. Hosea shows proof positive that what is mistaken for mere politics is actually a matter of righteousness. He addressed the oppression of the peasantry by heavy taxation and regulation. He survived the fall of Samaria in 722 BC and published his work afterward, during the reign of Hezekiah.

Amos -- While we cannot link him to an important ruling family, Amos was clearly better educated than average. He did not bear the office of prophet, merely prophesied once. He was called directly by God from the sheep pastures of Tekoah, a dozen miles south of Jerusalem. He also cultivated fruit-bearing sycamore trees. His phrasing is loaded with images of this pastoral lifestyle. He accepted his prophetic call to Bethel in the northern kingdom, around 760 BC. The comfortable prosperity and the trendy pagan worship practices of the nobility of Israel led them to flout every custom and law. Not only would they not obey the law, they actively prevented others, thus denying justice to the citizens. Eventually Amos was driven out of the area near the Bethel shrine, came home and recorded his message.

Jonah -- Jonah relates more of his own story than his contemporaries, and is named in the historical texts (2 Kings 14:25). He predicted that Jeroboam II would successfully pacify his enemies. Jonah hailed from the area we now call Galilee. The story in his prophetic book takes place sometime between 780 and 750 BC. After the Battle at Qarqar, Assyrian power and threat had subsided a great deal. The imperial capital was then at Caleh, a royal suburb of Nineveh. Imperial records indicate during this time frame the palace took a swing toward monotheism for a time. There were also several major events regarded as portents of divine judgment, including plagues and a total solar eclipse. These may have paved the way for acceptance of Jonah's message.

Jonah was already a prophet when the Lord directed him to Nineveh, the capital of an empire regarded with some contempt as an especially cruel and rapacious enemy of Israel. As a true patriot, Jonah didn't want to help the enemy of his people, knowing God would surely be merciful if they repented. Rather than travel northeast up to Charan and back down the Mesopotamian Valley, he headed west down to the Mediterranean coast. There at the Philistine port of Joppa, he took passage on a Phoenician ship headed for Spain (Tarshish). The storm that struck was completely out of season. The pagan sailors were too far out to simply row back, so they dumped their cargo to gain maximum buoyancy in the huge, high waves. They all prayed loudly and fervently to their various gods. Jonah was asleep when they demanded he join the prayers. God used their pagan ritual of casting lots over who was the target of this storm to indict Jonah. Knowing he would be guilty of their demise if he didn't act, Jonah convinced them to toss him overboard. When they finally did, the storm ceased immediately. No one knows what kind of fish could do this, but Jonah was transported back to the Palestinian coast and tossed up on the dry shore. When the Word of God came again to direct him to Nineveh, he went.

The entire city-state was known by the name of its chief city, Nineveh. The city-state was the primary political division of the ancient valley since human memory. It would encompass the city walls and all the land around it necessary to provide food and other resources. It was the ancient equivalent of a fiefdom. Jonah wandered the entire district preaching his message for three days. If we could picture a similar modern parallel, Washington DC would compare favorably. In this case, the federal officials remain aloof, but the residents and local government react deeply. Just so, the governor of the district, not the emperor, declares a period of repentance and fasting, even draping domestic herds in sackcloth. God relented on the impending judgment. Jonah argued this was exactly what he feared. While the obvious message is Jews hating Gentiles simply for being Gentiles was wrong, since Israel was called to be a nation of priests to bring redemption to the Gentiles, there is more to it than that. It indicates beforehand the justice of God when Israel would be destroyed. If a pagan city-state can find God's mercy, surely His own people could. The army based in this Nineveh would become the instrument of God's judgment on Israel.

2 Kings 14:23-29 -- Early in Uzziah's reign, Jeroboam II (793-753 BC) succeeded Joash on the throne of Israel. Already established in co-regency with his father, and having commanded the army in three victorious battles against Syria, Jeroboam II was an even better ruler than Uzziah in human terms. His fame eclipsed that of Uzziah and there is evidence Jeroboam influenced him somewhat. The army of Syria went home in defeat, which kingdom soon became a tributary of Israel. Assyria was busy on other fronts, having not yet fully recovered from the massive losses at Qarqar nearly 100 years earlier. The power vacuum allowed Jeroboam II a chance to regain mastery of everything once held by David and Solomon to his north. He ruled as far as the old Kingdom of Hamath. It appears he regained economic control of the entire East Bank of the Jordan down to Ammon. This had all been prophesied by Jonah. Archaeological digs in Samaria have uncovered the rich splendor of his reign. He doubled the wall around the city, decorated his palace with ivory inlays, and amassed exquisite art from all over. At the same time, he made the spiritual life of his kingdom exceedingly poor. He funded grand improvements to the paganized temples at Dan, Gilgal-ephraim and Bethel. He removed all restraints from the ruling class, creating a horrendous level of oppression on the common folk. Justice became a market commodity, sold to the highest bidder. Crushing and capricious taxation made the peasantry de facto slaves.

Assyria eventually finished business on her other borders and began planning a new invasion. A new class of emperors arises, starting with Tiglath-pileser III. A decade after Jeroboam II passes Assyria returns with a vengeance. Time is about to run out on Israel.

Chapter 9.18: Covenant Nadir

Jehovah keeps his promise that Jehu's sons would reign to the fourth generation. The last is promptly replaced, but the pattern continues for all but one of the last kings of Israel. The people continue ignoring the prophets and chaos descends on the nation, both kingdoms.

2 Kings 15:8-12 -- In 753 BC, late in the year, Zechariah succeeds his father Jeroboam II on the throne of Israel. His reign is marked by a continuation of the sins of Jeroboam I. He keeps the temples at Dan, Gilgal-ephraim and Bethel active. As the last of four generations in Jehu's dynasty (ch. 10:30) he lived a short six months. He was assassinated publicly, which serves to indicate the nobles weren't upset with it. The obvious reason would be the complete lack of justice noted by the prophets.

15:13-14 -- The usurper was named Shallum and he lasted a full month during the year 752 BC. Tradition says it was the general of his army, Menahem, who opposed him. Quartered with the troops in the old capital city of Tirzah, he mobilized the army as soon as he heard of Shallum's act. We have no record of a battle, but it's quite certain Shallum had the support of the Palace Guard, or he could not have seized the throne. At any rate, the throne of Israel had long been a military position. When the royal line dies out, succession went to the commander of the army, so he was merely asserting his rights.

15:15-22 -- In his first act as King, Menahem dealt with the only challenge to his rule, the city of Tiphsah, near Tirzah. Most likely, there was some grudge involved that was not recorded. They attempted to hold out against his demands; he destroyed the city and brutally murdered the inhabitants. His reign lasted a brief ten years. During that time, Assyria comes back under the command of Pul (Pulu, also known as Tiglath-pileser III). We know from records that Menahem led troops into battle around 743 BC, probably defending Israel's hold over Hamath far to the north. His ally, Rezin of Damascus, was not enough help, as they lost the battle. Menahem tried to escape, was capture and brought back to Samaria as a puppet ruler under Assyria.

15:23-26 -- Apparently Menahem died of natural causes and was succeeded by his son Pekahiah in 742 BC. His two-year reign coincides with the last two years of Uzziah of Judah. He, too, followed the same hideous evil noted by the Prophet Hosea. Things are a little confused at this point, for we find that Menahem's adjutant and commander of the Royal Bodyguard, Pekah, was already serving with some sort of co-regency powers, under both Menahem and Pekahiah. Pekah's assassination of the King was a simple matter of ordering the bodyguard to remove the puppet heir. This serves only to highlight the complete lack of honor in that society.

15:27-31 -- Pekah's reign was the longest of the last kings of Israel, twenty years (752-732 BC), claiming the years of his two predecessors. He was no better than any previous King of Israel. Thus, no one should be surprised that Tiglath-pileser came back. Since Israel was already a vassal kingdom, he was ready to complete his plans for domination. Throughout his empire, he maintained the practice of displacement. Once a people were conquered, he would take as much tribute as they possessed. Then, in due time he came back with troops and wagons to move the most dangerous part of the population to some other place in his empire. This served to dampen any enthusiasm folks might have to revolt. Most pagans divided their worship between gods of the land and gods of their nation. If these happened to be the same gods or were similar, it was a bonus for Assyria. For most pagan nations, it meant weakening their allegiance to their regional gods at least, forcing them to adopt the local gods of the place to where they were moved. In the process, every warrior of any value was drafted into the imperial service. The whole process was so demoralizing and unsettling that the empire never faced serious internal threat from conquests. The first wave of resettlement involved the northern half of Pekah's realm.

15:32-38 -- Beginning with his father's retirement from public life because of leprosy, Jotham succeeded Uzziah on the throne of Judah in 750 BC. He obeyed the Law as had is father, without the error of trying to play priest. From the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 27, we learn that Jotham added a new gate to the Temple complex and reinforced the city walls extensively in Jerusalem. He also built new forts and repaired old ones throughout the realm. During his last three years he was taking tribute from Ammon. He had already placed his son Ahaz as co-regent and commander, probably mimicking Israel somewhat. When he died in 732 BC, his son had already led several battles.

16:1-9 -- The reign of Ahaz is considered to have begun in 735 BC (paralleled in 2 Chronicles 28). Assyria had not come down to relocate the population of Israel yet. We are told he was an evil king, walking in the most hideous acts of depraved pagan worship. He began early reviving the nasty cult of Molech, using the original site in the Valley of Hinnom below the Old City. He offered there at least one of his children on the heated bronze oven-altar to Molech. For his sins, he was delivered to his enemies. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus had allied together to face Assyria. They demanded Ahaz join them, but he refused. They both came down in force and laid siege to Jerusalem. They didn't have time to finish the siege before facing Assyria again. However, Syria sent troops down to Ezion-geber on the Gulf of Aqaba and drove out the troops and workers of Judah. This thrilled the Edomites, who promptly took over the facilities. Edom had already stopped paying tribute to Judah during her troubles. Ahaz sent a delegation to Assyria and requested help with the situation. This served to notify Assyria her two vassals were planning to revolt. She came down and destroyed Damascus first, shipping all the inhabitants out right away.

While they had managed to hold out until Assyria came, the land of Judah was ravaged by Israel and Damascus. Some 120,000 troops were killed and a great company of people and spoil were taken from several cities. Having dragged the whole lot to Samaria, they were accosted by the prophet Obed. He warned that the army had over-stepped their bounds. The military loss alone was by the hand of Jehovah, punishing the sins of Ahaz and the people of Judah who followed him in it. Taking plunder was okay, but making of their own nation captive slaves was going too far. He warned the punishment on Israel would be greater than that of Judah. A significant party of leaders demanded the warriors release the captives. From the spoil, any naked captives were clothed; any weak or lame were given a riding beast. The rest of the plunder stayed, but the captives were escorted to Jericho for repatriation.

16:10-16 -- Traveling north to meet Tiglath-pileser, Ahaz met his troops at Damascus after the battle. He also asked for help with the revolting Edomites. Edom had invaded and taken another bunch of captives to sell as slaves. On top of that, the Philistines took some of the lower cities on their border with Judah. Assyria declined to help with that. However, they made plans to come down and collect some more tribute from Judah. Meanwhile, Ahaz saw there a very large altar and other ceremonial trappings of Syria's chief god. We are told in the parallel passage he decided since the god of Damascus had given them victory over his troops (despite surviving the siege) he should switch his allegiance to that god. He created a schematic of the altar and sent it back by messenger to a priest in Jerusalem who constructed a copy, finished and ready before Ahaz returned. He had the altar of Jehovah moved aside and replaced it with his new altar. He ordered the priest to use that altar exclusively. Urijah's complicity in this matter indicates the depths to which the whole system had sunk so quickly.

16:17-20 -- He stripped down the original furnishings of the Temple to meet the increased demands from the Assyrians who came back with him from Damascus. The priestly bath was dropped down onto the pavement. With no gold or silver left, Assyria's representatives settled for several tons of brass and bronze, all the cast work of Solomon's artisans. We also know that Isaiah prophesied of God's power and provision, but Ahaz ignored him. What was left of the Temple furnishings were stripped out for an ever-growing number of new pagan shrines. The Temple was sealed and neglected for quite some time. When Ahaz died in 716 BC, he was not buried in the royal tombs. His unfaithfulness was beyond measure.

Chapter 9.19: Samaria Falls, Judah Rises

2 Kings 17:1-6 -- Hoshea assassinated Pekah in a conspiracy, having first gained permission from Tiglath-pileser. The Emperor died a short time later in 727 BC, succeeded by Shalamaneser V. Taking advantage of the turmoil in this change over, Hoshea stopped sending tribute. Instead, he saved it up and sent it as a gift to Pharaoh So of Egypt. However, the latter was unable to send significant help, despite grand promises. Shalamaneser's troops rolled down across the land, hardly noticing any resisting forces along the way. Laying siege to Samaria, the old fortress city held out for three years. During that time, Shalamaneser died and was replaced by Sargon II. This emperor quickly brought the city to its knees. He imprisoned Hoshea upon surrender. The people of Israel, barring a few servants and some peasants, were deported to areas near the imperial capital, Nineveh. Starting just east of Charan, they were scattered across the hilly areas that fed into the upper Euphrates, and were spread as far east as the mountainous areas of northern ancient Media, now known as northwestern Iran. The Fall of Samaria is pegged at 722 BC.

17:7-23 -- The narrative offers a long recitation of the reasons God allowed the northern half of His nation taken away from the Promised Land. It reads like a specification of broken laws, charges read before a court. They took advantage of the national division and never returned to Jehovah.

17:24-41 -- There is some debate over how soon the land was repopulated. There were enough peasants left for a third deportation some time later under Esarhaddon (681-668 BC). If left with this minimal farming population, there need not be a quick replacement of the upper classes. That would mean roughly 40 years passed with this scattered rural peasantry kept raising a minimal tribute. Eventually, the emperor brought in an upper class with their own peasants. Some of the replacements are identified as Elamites, as well as a swap with some of the people living where the Israelites were settled, along with Hamathites and folks from the Euphrates just above Babylon. Very few of the original Israelites were left.

By then, the cities had been empty quite some time. The folks moved in, followed by a seasonal migration of the lions to areas they were used to roaming unimpeded for several decades. The people's assumption was quite correct; the lions came because Jehovah was not honored. Syrian lions were usually not interested in populated places, so this was clearly an unnatural affliction. The new inhabitants sent an appeal to the Emperor for a priest of the god of the place. What they got was an apostate priest who knew of Jehovah, and presented the new inhabitants with a heavily edited Torah. The worship center was Bethel. While they did adopt the rituals of Jehovah's worship, they kept their tribal gods. Some were quite despicable.

18:1-8 -- We aren't sure when Hezekiah succeeded his father Ahaz to the throne of Judah. To make the most sense of the narrative, we will assume the year is 716 BC. His long reign of 29 years (until 687 BC) reflects his righteousness. Indeed, his reign is called by many scholars a "revival" because he promptly destroyed every evil his father had built up. Indeed, he destroyed the old bronze serpent image Moses had raised on a pole in the wilderness below Edom (Numbers 21:9). The people had built a cult around it, calling it "the Bronze Thing." Hezekiah is compared favorably to his ancestor David, as Jehovah prospered him at every turn. Thus, he was protected by God in throwing off the yoke of Assyria according to the submission of Ahaz. He also subdued the Philistines again. However, for a fuller accounting of his return to Jehovah, we shift to 2 Chronicles 29.

2 Chronicles 29:3-19 -- His first act was to have the Temple doors unsealed. Then he called the Levites back from their scattered homes. While they gathered, he had the doors repaired and refinished. The Levites and a few priests assembled in the open court, which was on the east side of the Temple Mount. With the newly repaired doors standing open behind him, he basically preached a sermon about the serious neglect and ordered them to cleanse and sanctify the Temple afresh. How else to turn away the wrath of the Lord? He recounted some samples of that wrath. The leaders are selected and the Levites set to work. It took a week to remove the clutter from the Temple, and then another 9 days to put everything back in place. The rubbish was dumped into the Kidron Valley, directly out in front of the Temple. Somewhere in all this, they had re-plated the door with gold, and trimmed the pillars as well. They announced it to their king.

29:20-36 -- Hezekiah then called a sacred assembly of the elders. He brought out seven each of the sacrificial animals. Their blood was sprinkled on the sacred objects. Upon beginning to burn the carcasses, he had ordered the musicians to sing and play the Psalms of David and Asaph. Everyone was so delighted, they asked the the musicians to keep playing after the offerings were consumed. The joyous worship that followed had not been seen for quite some time.

In this heady atmosphere, the worshippers were invited to bring the other kinds of freewill offerings. The Levites had been more serious about ritual purification and were ready to work from the first day of Hezekiah's orders to clean the Temple. The priests had been rather lax. The sacrifices were too numerous to be handled by the few priests ready, so the Levites pitched in while a bunch of priests hurried to complete the purification rituals. There were enough food offerings and other kinds of gifts that the Temple management had a running start on keeping things going. There was plenty to feed the first rotation of priests and Levites, and sufficient money and materials to keep things in good shape. Folks were really thrilled God had made it possible, since the whole thing was thrown together rather abruptly.

We take a moment here to note a difference in quality between the priests and Levites. After Urijah's apostasy under Ahaz, they seem taken as a whole with a lack of seriousness about worship. This problem raises its ugly head at times over the following centuries until, in Jesus' day, they are the party of secularism. The Levites were regarded as lesser in rank for the humbleness of their task. Yet they are clearly more concerned with obedience to the letter and spirit of the Law.

30:1-12 -- What follows would have been politically impossible at any time prior, since the division of the Nation. Hezekiah sent runners all over both kingdoms, described with the proverbial "from Dan to Beersheba," designating the extremes of north and south. This was after the Fall of Samaria, so the runners were allowed to pass by the few Assyrian guards, who saw it as one more chance to weaken the resolve of those remaining in Israel to resist. This looked to them like an invitation to rejoin the House of David, which was then a faithful vassal of the Empire under Ahaz. At that point, Hezekiah had shown no inclination to alter that situation. All Israel and Judah were invited to celebrate the Passover, which came at a later date that year. The standard Day of Passover had been missed because the priests had been too slow going through the purification rituals in sufficient numbers for the one day annually that required all of them on duty at once. It was delayed a full month. This delay was no different than when the Lord so instructed for an alternative date (Numbers 9:9ff).

The message was faithful and offered them some refuge, as well. The messengers to them if they would humble themselves and forget politics, the Lord would preserve their relatives taken away after the siege, and would reduce their own losses in the future last deportation. Most of the audience mocked, but a few humbled themselves and came down to Passover. Those few who cared about Jehovah were moved as one heart.

30:13-20 -- As the nation gathered and prepared their hearts to celebrate the deliverance of God from Egypt, all the little shrines around Jerusalem were tossed into the Kidron with everything else that had fouled the Temple. They stayed on for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The narrative notes that many from the north had insufficient time to prepare themselves ceremonially. Thus, the Levites had to stand in for them, bringing the families' lambs for sanctification for the Passover Feast. And while they were also not ready to eat the Sacred Meal, Hezekiah interceded on their behalf with good effect. A pure heart could stand in for ritual purity.

30:21-27 -- The whole event was described as a true celebration. The singing and playing was something sorely missed for many generations. The Levites who knew the Law also went among the people and taught it and the Psalms. Because of Hezekiah's generosity in personally providing a huge heard of cattle and sheep for food, the people agreed as a whole to keep the feast another week. The nobles also contributed a large number of animals. The scribe notes that this period of worship and celebration had not been seen since the days of Solomon, some 200 years before. In like manner, Jehovah honored the priests' blessings of the people, which they gave according to the Law.

The primary source of resistance to the Covenant in Samaria was gone. The events herald a new age of faithfulness under Hezekiah. This sets the starting place for the next section, wherein Judah stands alone.

Ed Hurst
13 November 2004, revised 07 February 2016

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