Bible Story Book Index
The Bible Story
Volume 6, Chapters 129-139
A New King in Israel
JEHORAM, king of the House of Judah, fled with his family toward his palace when Arabians and Philistines broke into Jerusalem. Before they could get inside, the king's frantically racing wives and children were seized by Arabian riders and whisked away. Jehoram reached the palace and ran to a secret hiding place. (II Chronicles 21:1-16).
The End of a Bad Reign
For the next several hours he paced back and forth, miserably wondering what was taking place. Occasionally he could hear muffled shouts and thuds. When finally he cautiously emerged from concealment, he found that the palace had been ransacked. Objects of great value had been taken. What was left had been dashed or pulled to the floor.
There was great excitement among the remaining servants when they found that their king was safe, but they hesitated to talk about his family.
"At least we know that Ahaziah is all right," one spoke up. This was somewhat comforting to Jehoram, who believed that all his family had been taken. Then he remembered that a part of the letter from Elijah had warned in advance what would befall the king's family. One by one the prophet's predictions were taking place -- just as Jehoram feared they might.
Not long after the invaders had gone with their prisoners and loot, Jehoram's first wife Athalia showed up. This wasn't contrary to Elijah's writing. He had said only that wives would be taken, but he didn't say they all would be forever absent from Jehoram. Somehow Athalia escaped and was able to return. The captors probably couldn't endure her sharp tongue. Except for Ahaziah, all of Jehoram's sons were murdered by their abductors.
People of Judah then began to suffer from a disease that spread quickly from person to person. This, too, was according to what Elijah had warned about. Later, Jehoram started having an irritating soreness in his abdomen. During the next two years it developed into intense pains. Finally, as Elijah had written, the king's intestines became so infected that they dropped out of him, causing an unusually horrible death.
Because of his cruel ways and his indifference to the welfare of his people, Jehoram wasn't popular with his subjects. He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the burial place of the kings, and not with the usual respectful ceremonies. (II Kings 8:23-24; II Chronicles 21:17-20.)
Ahaziah became king, but he had been reared amid pagan practices, and did nothing to improve conditions in Judah. His mother made sure that any move he made was in accord with her perverse wishes.
At this time Jehoram (not the Jehoram of Judah who had recently died) was king of the House of Israel. He decided to take his army to Ramoth-gilead, a town east of Jordan occupied by Syrian soldiers. This fortified town was in the territory of Gad. The king didn't want the Syrians to continue possessing a stronghold inside Israel, especially that close to Samaria, only about forty miles away. When the young king of Judah heard about this, he added troops to those of Jehoram. Both kings with their combined forces went eastward to surround Ramoth-gilead.
A Revolution Hits Israel
Later, when it appeared that the Israelites might force the besieged Syrian troops to surrender, Jehoram was seriously wounded by an arrow shot from the walls. The king was taken to Jezreel, several miles north of Samaria, to wait until his wound healed. His officers felt that it was wiser for him to go there secretly instead of returning to Samaria in what would be regarded by many as a disgraceful condition. Jehu, the commander of the army in Israel, was left in charge of the continuing siege of Ramoth-gilead.
Rather than wait to find out what the Syrians would do, Ahaziah chose to go to Jezreel to visit Jehoram and learn if he had started to recover. (II Kings 8:25-29; II Chronicles 22:1-6.)
Meanwhile, Elisha the prophet was aware of what was taking place. Through God, he knew that it was time for the family of Ahab, because of disobedience, to come to an end. God instructed the prophet to choose one of his students to prepare for an immediate trip to Ramoth-gilead.
"There you will find Jehu, Jehoram's army commander," Elisha told the young man. "State that you have a private message for him and that you must see him alone."
The prophet gave him a phial of oil and explained how he was to use it and just what he should say. He was warned to leave Jehu the moment his mission was over.
Two days later the young man arrived at Ramoth-gilead. The siege was still going on. Israelite troops were huddled in groups, hoping for the surrender of the Syrians. Jehu and his chief officers were sitting under an awning extending from his tent. When guards saw the stranger, they quickly surrounded him, but took him to Jehu, as he requested, after finding no weapons on him.
"This man claims that he has an important message for you that must be delivered in private," one of the guards reported.
Jehu and his officers looked critically at the stranger. Finally Jehu motioned his guards away and beckoned to the young man to follow him into his tent. Nervously Elisha's student produced the phial of olive oil and quickly poured it over the head of the startled officer.
"By the authority of the God of Israel, I anoint you as the next king of the House of Israel," the young man hastily explained while Jehu listened in growing astonishment. "God wants to make it plain to you that as future king you must avenge the deaths of God's prophets at Samaria in Ahab's time; and the deaths of other servants of God caused by Jezebel. With God's help, you are to end the rule of the family of Ahab. That includes queen Jezebel, whose body will be consumed by dogs, so that there will be little to bury." (II Kings 9:1-10.)
Having accomplished what he was to do, the young man anxiously turned to hurry out. Jehu reached out and seized him by the arm.
"I've been patient with you," Jehu said a little angrily. "Now tell me who sent you, and why they wish to affront me with your disrespectful little act."
"It wasn't an act and it wasn't disrespectful!" the young man exclaimed. "The prophet Elisha sent me to do what I did."
"Oh!" Jehu muttered in surprise. A bit bewildered, he sank into a chair, unaware of the messenger's departure. For a time he sat there in deep thought, then came out of the tent to join his officers.
"I hope that fellow didn't annoy you," one of them remarked. "He was probably some kind of religious crackpot. What was his excuse for coming here?"
"Should I bother to tell you what you have already heard through the tent flap?" Jehu asked. "Obviously you have already decided what kind of man he is and that he came here for no important purpose."
"Whatever he told you, I hope you didn't believe him," another officer remarked.
"But I did," Jehu declared. "He was sent by the prophet Elisha to tell me that I am to be the next king of the House of Israel."
The officers stared silently at their commander, expecting him to momentarily break into a grin at his own absurd statement. But his unusual gaze, continuing steady and sober, caused them to realize that he was serious. Amazed and abashed, they rose as one man, took off their jackets and spread them on the steps leading up to the tent entrance. In this manner, even though they had only the abrupt, brief declaration from their superior, they acknowledged him as their new ruler.
Syrian soldiers on the walls of Ramoth-gilead, only a little over a bowshot away, jumped to an anxious alert when they heard the blast of Israelite trumpets and cheers of soldiers. They didn't know that Jehu's top officers had just announced to their troops that their commander was soon to replace Jehoram. (II Kings 9:11-13.)
Convinced of what he should do according to Elisha, whom he greatly respected, and at the same time excited and elated at the thought of becoming a king, Jehu prepared to leave Ramoth-gilead.
"Continue a tight siege," he instructed his officers. "Don't allow anyone to come outside the walls. And don't let anyone leave our camps except those I pick to accompany me. I don't want anyone to reach Jezreel before I do, or Jehoram might hear about what has happened."
Jehu set off for Jezreel in his chariot, along with some of his best charioteers and cavalry. A few hours later he was in sight of the town where Jehoram was staying, and where his wound had almost healed in recent days. An alert watchman in a lookout tower on the wall noticed that a cloud of dust was rising from across the plain.
"Something that could be cavalry or chariots is approaching from the east," the lookout reported to Jehoram, who was talking with Ahaziah.
"It must be men with word from Ramoth-gilead," Jehoram observed, getting up from his couch. "Send a horseman out to meet them and bring back the news to me as fast as possible."
Jehu Fulfills Prophecy
Minutes later a rider drew up alongside Jehu's clattering chariot and called out above the stomping of hoofs, asking how matters were going at Ramoth-gilead.
"Don't be concerned about that!" Jehu shouted back. "Go fall in at the rear of the cavalry!"
When the rider failed to return within a reasonable time, Jehoram sent another man to meet the oncoming company. Jehu told him, too, to ride at the rear. By this time, although Jehu was three or four miles away, the watchman told Jehoram that the company appeared to be led by a chariot, and that it was being driven so fast that the driver could be Jehu, who had excellent horses and a reputation for speeding in his chariot. (II Kings 9:14-20.)
This bothered Jehoram. He had a feeling that if it were Jehu, he was coming with some troublesome news. Both the kings set out at once, each in his own chariot, to meet Jehu's company. Not far outside Jezreel, where Naboth's vineyard had been taken from him (I Kings 21:1-16), Jehu had to rumble to a stop because Jehoram and Ahaziah pulled up in front of him.
"Are things going well at Ramoth-gilead?" Jehoram anxiously asked.
"How could anything go well in Israel as long as it has a king whose mother deals in adultery, witchcraft and idolatry, and whose son follows in her footsteps?" Jehu scowlingly demanded. (II Kings 9:21-22.)
Jehoram stared at Jehu, stunned by the rebellious and insulting remark. But instead of reprimanding Jehu, he turned to Ahaziah.
"Get out of here!" he shouted to the young king. "These men have become our enemies!"
Jehoram and Ahaziah cracked their whips at their horses, swung their chariots around and rumbled back toward Jezreel. Jehu seized his bow and hastily fitted an arrow to the string. Seconds later Jehoram was dead on the floor of his chariot, whose horses pulled it off into some roadside boulders. (II Kings 9:23-24.)
"Take Jehoram's body and throw it into the field where Naboth the grape-grower was stoned to death," Jehu said to Bidkar, his cavalry captain. "Do you remember when we were young horse soldiers under Ahab, how Ahab's wife Jezebel had Naboth unjustly killed? Now let her dead son be food for wild dogs on the same spot where she had Naboth murdered." (II Kings 9:25-26; I Kings 21:17-22.)
Jehu realized that by his order to Bidkar he was carrying out part of a prophecy made to Ahab by Elijah. The prophet had told that king about fifteen years previously that his blood would be licked up by dogs at the same place dogs had licked up Naboth's blood. In this event it was Ahab's son's blood, which was the same as his in a lineage sense.
NO Place to Hide
From his speeding chariot Ahaziah looked toward the other vehicle just in time to see Jehoram fall with Jehu's arrow protruding from his back. Expecting an arrow at any moment through his own back, the young king of Judah whipped his horses to their utmost speed. Had he looked behind, he would have known that Jehu and his company had come to a stop. Ahaziah rumbled into Jezreel, but he knew he wouldn't be safe there if Jehu meant to find him. He would have to keep on traveling, but there was something he wanted to do before he left Jezreel.
Jezebel, Jehoram's mother and Ahaziah's grandmother, had come to Jezreel to confer with her son. Ahaziah wanted to speak with her, but he had not time to leave his chariot and go to where she was staying. But he did pull up at the place and hastily speak to a servant.
"Tell my grandmother that Jehu has turned against us!" Ahaziah excitedly said. "Tell her at once that he has killed my uncle Jehoram, and that he is on his way here to get me! I'm riding on to Samaria, but tell her that I want her to try to stop Jehu when he gets here!"
Ahaziah lost no time in riding to Jezreel's south gate, where he turned out and raced off toward the capital of the House of Israel.
A short while later Jehu and his men clattered into the town. From windows and doorways people fearfully peered out at them, not knowing what to expect. Most of them didn't know who the mounted visitors were or why they had come. When he came to the main street, the army commander rode slowly. He and his men were hungry and thirsty, and he glanced about in search of an inn. Besides, the horses needed rest and water.
"Hello, Jehu!" a female voice called from somewhere above. "Do you feel like Zimri, the servant who murdered a king of Israel years ago?"
Jehu halted his horses and looked around. Up in a window of one of the taller buildings a woman was leaning over the sill and smiling down at him. She was attired in fine clothing and her hair was beautifully arranged, but her face was so excessively painted that it wasn't easy to determine her approximate age or real appearance.
"I admire you, Jehu," the woman continued. "Success is bound to come to those who have the courage to rid themselves of those who stand in the way of their ambitions."
"Jezebel!" Jehu muttered, after finally recognizing Jehoram's mother.
It wasn't clear to him whether Jezebel was meaning to show her queenly disdain for him or whether she was trying to delay him from his intended purpose.
"Who is on my side?" Jehu asked. "Why don't you send your men to the inn up the street and then come up here and find out," Jezebel answered with even a broader smile.
At this point Jehu spied some effeminate-appearing men peeking out of an adjoining window. He recognized them as the kind of persons who were servants in harems and certain kinds of public houses. That was enough for the army commander.
"You fellows up there!" he shouted to the men at the window. "Throw that woman down!"
Terrified at the threatening command, the men seized the screaming Jezebel and shoved her over the window sill. (II Kings 9:30-33.)
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Jezebel, Chaos and a Boy King
JEHU HAD come into the Israelite town of Jezreel after putting an end to King Jehoram of Israel, according to God's instructions through Elisha. (II Kings 9:1-26.) Jehu was met there by Jezebel, the idolatrous queen mother of Jehoram. At Jehu's command, she was pushed from a high window by her men attendants. (II Kings 9:30-33.)
No Memorial for Jezebel
If Jezebel didn't die instantly when she struck the street, she didn't live long afterward. Jehu signaled his men to move on. They did, and right over Jezebel's mangled body. The company drew up at a nearby inn to eat while the horses rested and were fed and watered.
"The people have viewed the remains of the wicked woman long enough," Jehu told his men after their meal. "Jezebel doesn't deserve an honorable funeral, but she was the daughter of a king, the wife of a king, the mother-in-law of a king and the grandmother of a king. She shouldn't be left unburied. Take her off the street and prepare a grave for her."
Jehu's men went to the place where they had last seen the body, but hungry dogs had already been there. Only the skull, feet and hands remained. The men returned to their commander to tell him what had happened. (II Kings 9:34-35.)
"This is according to God's will," Jehu informed them. "Elijah the prophet foretold that dogs would consume this woman close to the wall of Jezreel. Not enough is left of her to even be buried. She will become only waste matter on the ground. She'll never have a monument or even a tombstone with her name on it." (II Kings 9:36-37; I Kings 21:1-26.)
This was the wretched end of a woman who was probably the most infamous in Bible history. Her evil, idolatrous life strongly influenced and infected all Israel, resulting in misery and unhappiness for many people. Probably a large part of them didn't deserve anything better, and so God allowed this woman to affect their lives in a step toward the destiny of all Israel.
To qualify as king of the House of Israel, Jehu's task was far from accomplished. Through him God purposed to destroy all of Ahab's family. Ahaziah was still free, and seventy of his young uncles, Ahab's sons, lived in Samaria, the capital of Israel. Jehu wanted to move promptly against them before they could flee and hide in distant places.
From Jezreel Jehu sent a message to close friends of Ahab, who cared for his younger sons, and to the head men of Samaria. He suggested that they immediately choose one of the seventy sons of Ahab to lead them, using the equipment of war available in the city, in defending themselves against Jehu and his cavalry. This frightened the men in Samaria. They knew it would be futile to try to stand against Jehu. All they could do was send back a reply promising to cooperate in any way except to fight. (II Kings 10:1-5.)
A little later an answer came from Jehu. The men of Samaria were shocked and even more fearful when they read it.
Idolatrous Family Perishes
"You can carry out your promise to cooperate," the message read, "by sending me the heads of the seventy sons of Ahab living in Samaria.
I'll expect to receive them before sunrise tomorrow. If I don't, there'll be more then seventy heads fall when my men reach your city."
Before dawn the next day men from Samaria brought the seventy heads of Ahab's sons in baskets. Jehu instructed to pile them in two heaps at the sides of the main gate of Jezreel. These were meant as grisly reminders to any who might consider resisting the new king.
Jehu came out to the gate next morning to find a silent crowd assembled there. When the people saw him, some glared at him accusingly. Others eyed him with fear and began to disperse.
"Why are you staring at me?" he asked them irritably. "I didn't cut off those heads. I took Jehoram's life, and that was according to God's will. It's also God's will that all of Ahab's sons should die, according to the prophets Elijah and Elisha." (II Kings 10:6-10; I Kings 21:17-19; II Kings 9:1-10.)
In the next hours Jehu and his men combed Jezreel and nearby regions for those related to Ahab, and put an end to their lives. They also did away with all pagan priests they could find. They then started for Samaria to continue their purpose, but stopped on the way at a shearing place where people were gathered. Jehu didn't recognize anyone there and no one seemed to recognize him.
"Who are all these?" he asked one man. "We are relatives of Ahaziah, king of Judah," the man proudly replied. "We are on our way to visit other relatives, Jehoram and Jezebel. We stopped here to take in the annual shearing event."
The speaker was unaware that the king and queen were dead and that he had just pronounced a death sentence on himself and his relatives. Jehu and his men acted at once. (II Kings 10:11-14.)
Right after the carnage had taken place, a chariot came up from the direction of Samaria, rumbled past the shearing place and turned off on a road to the northeast. Some of Jehu's men excitedly shouted to him that Ahaziah was in the chariot.
"If it is Ahaziah, then we'll be spared the trouble of looking for him," the new king remarked. "He must have heard that we're moving south and he doesn't intend to be caught in Samaria or Jerusalem. After him!"
By this time the chariot was out of sight behind a rise, but Jehu's cavalry had only to follow the dust cloud stirred up by racing horses and heavy wheels. Ahaziah was in the vehicle with a driver who ignored the pursuers' shouts to halt. In the jostling chariot Ahaziah's shield couldn't protect him from the arrows coming from behind. One found its intended mark. The young king of Judah collapsed on the chariot floor. Savagely whipping his horses, the driver continued to race on.
"Let him go!" Jehu shouted from his chariot a short distance behind the riders. "He'll not live long with an arrow in him. We'll only waste time chasing him farther."
A Plot against Baal
He was right. Ahaziah died at Megiddo, a town a few miles to the northwest. His body was later taken by servants down to Jerusalem for burial in the royal vault. (II Kings 9:27-29; II Chronicles 22:1-9.)
Again Jehu and his cavalry turned back for Samaria. On the way they met a group of mounted men led by Jehonadab, an influential leader highly respected in Israel. He was descended from Moses' relatives the Kenites, who had settled in southern Palestine. (Numbers 10:29-32; Judges 1:16; I Chronicles 2:55.) Jehu knew of Jehonadab, and wondered as the two parties approached if Jehonadab intended to oppose him.
"Do you disapprove of what I have been doing?" Jehu asked after greetings had been exchanged.
"I am in favor of it," Jehonadab replied. "I know that it's according to the will of God."
"Then go with me in my chariot to Samaria, if you wish, and help us find the remaining kin of Ahab," Jehu said, holding out his hand to the other man. (II Kings 10:15.)
Jehonadab agreed and rode with Jehu, who was pleased to have this prominent person seen with him on the streets of the capital. People who might not approve of Jehu's violent purging actions would possibly change their minds, the new king reasoned, on seeing that he and Jehonadab were friends. Jehonadab had made a lasting name for himself by strict adherence to God's Law and by training his children so well they followed him. (Jeremiah 35.)
During the next few days Jehu carried out what he had come to Samaria to do. This marked an end to the expanded family of Ahab. If that king had been obedient to God, his descendants wouldn't have been slaughtered, and would have continued to rule as long as they lived and ruled wisely. (II Kings 10:16-17.)
After Jehu had established himself at Samaria, he made a surprising public proclamation that he had decided to become a follower of Baal, even though he had put an end to some pagan priests in Jezreel. To make up for it, he declared that he would worship Baal with much more zeal than did Ahab, who sometimes was swayed to consider the God of Israel as more powerful. This was good news to the many followers of Baal in Israel, and especially to the priests of Baal, of whom there were hundreds in the land.
"I have chosen a day on which to offer the first sacrifices to Baal," Jehu announced. "Every loyal priest of that god should be present at the temple to participate in the ceremonies. Any priest who fails to show up will be subject to death."
When the special day came, so many priests attended that the building was packed. Many worshippers also showed up, but there wasn't room for all of them inside.
"See that all the priests are properly clothed in the proper vestments for the rituals," Jehu told those in charge of such matters. "No priests should have a part in the services unless he is attired rightly."
Pagan Splendor Becomes a Privy
To Jehonadab and his men he gave instructions that no follower of God should be allowed as a spectator in the temple. Then the sacrificing started. With attention focused on the altar, it was a shocking surprise when the Priests and worshinners realized that the doors had been opened and that soldiers were rushing in on them.
Eighty soldiers with drawn swords squeezed quickly into the temple. Then the doors were slammed shut to prevent any of the crowd from escaping the slaughter that followed.
Jehu hadn't become a Baal worshipper after all. This was his deceitful scheme to get the priests of Baal together so that he could rid Israel of them all at once. (II Kings 10:18-25.)
After they had dragged the bodies out, the soldiers broke down the altar and smashed the temple furnishings. They pulled down the image of Baal, uncovered many small images hidden in a secret place, hauled everything into the street and burned it there.
The temple building was ruined. Its rooms were used as public waste rooms for hundreds of years. (II Kings 10:26-28.)
Jehu had obediently and zealously performed for God, but he wasn't inclined toward obedience toward God in other ways. Though he had fanatically wiped out the worship of Baal in Israel, he later promoted and encouraged the worship of the golden calves in shrines at Bethel near Jerusalem and at Dan near Mt. Hermon.
These animal images, set up by King Jeroboam more than ninety years previously, were supposedly intended as substitutes for God, so that the people of the northern tribes wouldn't have to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship and sacrifice. The fact was that Jeroboam didn't want his subjects to go into Judah, lest they find freedom of worship there and decide to stay. His spurious priests convinced many that God was pleased with this arrangement. In this matter Jehu followed to a great extent in Jeroboam's footsteps.
Through a prophet or priest or perhaps by means of a dream, the information was conveyed to Jehu that because he had carried out God's will in putting an end to Ahab's family, his descendants for the next four generations would rule ten tribes of Israel. At the same time it was made plain to him that if he continued condoning calf-image worship, trouble would come to his nation.
Jehu was a man who depended on his power and influence and the strength of armed men. He saw no need to change his ways for the sake of his country. Nevertheless, because he had been zealous in the beginning, God allowed him to be king for twenty-eight years. (II Kings 10:29-36.)
Athaliah, mother of King Ahaziah of Judah, reacted in a terrible manner after her son was brought back dead to Jerusalem. Instead of grieving, she regarded the loss as an opportunity to become the queen ruler of Judah. She was determined that if her son couldn't continue as king, none of the sons of her dead husband's other wives would succeed Ahaziah. Besides, she relished the idea of David's posterity coming to an end.
Only a daughter of that infamous couple, Ahab and Jezebel, might have been capable of what Athaliah caused to be done. (II Kings 8:16-18.) All the young sons of Ahaziah were found dead except little Jehoash, the infant son of Ahaziah. His grandmother intended to do away with him, too, but through some oversight he was spared. Jehosheba, Ahaziah's sister, found the child alive and temporarily hid him and his nurse in a bedroom closet. Later she managed to take him secretly to the temple. There he was reared for the next six years by Jehosheba and her husband, Jehoiada, who was the high priest.
Meanwhile Athaliah ruled Judah, unaware that there was a male descendant of David living only a few blocks from her palace. (II Kings 11:1-3; II Chronicles 22:10-12.)
When Jehoash (also called Joash) was seven years old, Jehoiada the high priest instructed five trusted military captains to visit leaders throughout the territories of Judah and Benjamin to determine which of the clan chiefs were in strong favor of removing Athaliah from the throne.
Using tact and caution, lest their mission be discovered by Athaliah's followers, the five officers found that almost all the men contacted were eager to get rid of Jezebel's daughter, who for six years had proved that her lust for power and her desire to promote the worship of Baal in Judah was far greater than her interest in the welfare of the people.
After this encouraging report had been made to Jehoiada, leaders who were against Athaliah were invited to come to a special secret meeting at the temple. Great care was taken to make certain that no one loyal to the queen or connected with her activities was there.
"I want a vow from every man here that he will not disclose what he is about to see until the matter is made public," Jehoiada told those assembled.
The Boy King
All the men spoke out in hearty compliance. Jehoiada was pleased with the demonstration of loyalty, but he warned the men that God would deal harshly with any who broke the vow. Then his wife Jehosheba appeared before them, bringing with her a boy of about seven years of age.
"This is Jehoash, son of Ahaziah," the high priest announced to his startled audience. "He is the rightful successor to the throne of the kingdom of Judah! He wasn't murdered with Jehoram's sons six years ago. My wife rescued him and brought him to our living quarters here at the temple, where we have kept him since without Athaliah's knowledge. Now, with your help, he will become ruler of Judah, as only a descendant of David should be!"
After the excitement had somewhat subsided, Jehoiada disclosed his plans to declare Jehoash king on the next Sabbath. He divided the men into three groups, each of which was to be armed with weapons David had put in the temple treasury years before. This was a precaution against a possible attack on the temple and Jehoash by the royal guard. The queen was expected to be in a rage when she found out what was taking place.
On the Sabbath the men returned to the temple to arm themselves and take up their positions. When all was ready, Jehoash was brought close to the altar and anointed king by Jehoiada and his sons. Trumpets blared and people applauded happily as a crown was placed on the boy's head.
"God save the king!" Jehoiada and his sons exclaimed, and the audience joined in. (II Kings 11:412; II Chronicles 23:1-11.)
Over at the palace, Athaliah, who didn't worship at the temple of God, couldn't help hearing the shouts and music, which made her both irritable and curious.
"Send in my sedan chair!" she snapped at a servant. "I'll go over there myself and find out what all that noise is all about!"
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When a Nation Turns to Idols
QUEEN mother Athaliah, having ruled Judah for six years after usurping the throne, was one Sabbath morning bothered by music and shouts from the temple. Surrounded by a few of the royal guard and carried by four husky men in her curtained sedan chair, she was taken to the temple to see for herself what was happening. (II Kings 11:1-13; II Chronicles 22:10-12; 23:1-12.)
When she saw the unusually large, vocal crowd, and the temple surrounded by army commanders and armed clan chiefs, she became suspicious and angry.
"Stop here!" she commanded, and quickly stepped out of the lowered sedan chair before anyone could aid her.
End of an Evil Reign
As she set out up the steps to the crowded temple porch, guards leaped to her sides. She waved them disdainfully back and went on by herself. As soon as she reached the porch she took in the figures by the altar -- especially the boy with the crown on his head and the armed priests all around him. The scene had a shocking meaning for her. Furious, she shoved and elbowed her way into the crowd.
"This is treason!" she shrieked. "Who is responsible for trying to crown some child as king behind my back?"
By now all eyes were on the angry queen, including those of the high priest, who held up his hands to quiet the murmuring congregation.
"This child is your grandson Jehoash!" Jehoiada, the high priest, called out to Athaliah. "He escaped your murderous hands six years ago! He is the rightful ruler of Judah! There isn't room on the throne for more than one!"
The queen flew into a rage, tearing wildly at her clothing. Screaming madly, she ripped her costly tunic to shreds.
"Take her out of here!" the high priest ordered. "Don't let her die in the temple of God! And execute anyone who tries to stop you!"
Many hands closed on the screeching woman, forcing her back down the temple steps. Her guards, seeing the stalwart officers of the army and chiefs of the clans arrayed against them, held their peace.
"Go call the rest of the guards!" Athaliah screamed at them. "Summon the army!"
But the guards saw it was too late to carry any messages. The fiercely remonstrating queen was half dragged and half carried to a back street by which horses, mules and donkeys conveyed people to and from the palace. There Athaliah was slain. (II Kings 11:14-16; II Chronicles 23:13-15.)
While the people were still at the temple, Jehoiada told them that then was the time for looking fervently to God for the right way of living. He enjoined them to be obedient to the Creator and loyal to their new king.
An End to Baalism
During her reign, Athaliah had caused a temple to be built for the worship of Baal in Jerusalem. Gold bowls, basins and other valuable utensils and furnishings had been stolen from God's temple and taken to the pagan temple to be used in the worship of Baal.
Soon after Athaliah's death, a crowd swarmed eagerly into the pagan temple. Mattan, the overbearing head priest, reluctantly emerged from the private quarters of the temple women to perform the repetitious rituals and mumble and chant invocations for his visitors. When he saw their expressions, he knew that they hadn't come to worship.
"We have come to take back the things that were stolen from the temple of God," one of the crowd firmly informed Mattan.
"Think twice before you attempt to desecrate this temple," Mattan said, furtively signaling one of his priests to call the royal guard. "Any who stir the great god Baal to wrath shall surely suffer for it!"
"If you won't give us the things we came for, we'll get them for ourselves!" another man in the crowd shouted. "If that makes Baal angry, we'll pull him down and scorch his nose on his own altar!"
"Sacrilege!" Mattan exclaimed angrily. "Leave before the royal guard gets here!"
At a word from the leader of the crowd there was a scramble for the doors, but not to those leading outside. Men broke into every room to ferret out what had been taken from God's temple.
The haughty head priest glared as the articles were carried away. His glare turned to abrupt fright when he glanced up to see the main image of Baal toppling toward him. It crashed down on the altar and from there smashed to bits on the floor moments after the priest had leaped back.
The men who had tipped over the image then threw all the smaller Baal replicas to the floor and went around the interior of the building to tear down and smash everything they could reach. Mattan and his priests and women fled outside, only to be seized by Jehoiada's men.
Mattan was put to death. There was no royal guard to save him because there was no longer a queen to use the guard for the defense of the priests of Baal. Jehoiada's men left nothing untouched in the pagan temple. They didn't stop until even the walls were pulled down and the building and its contents were a mass of rubble. This was the end of the evil thing Athaliah had brought to Judah. (II Kings 11:17-18; II Chronicles 23:16-17.)
Worship of God at the temple Solomon had built had declined during Athaliah's reign. Now, with none to interfere, people began to return. Jehoiada put more priests into service and stepped up activity at the temple of Solomon. He even reorganized the royal guard. Accompanied by these soldiers and marching bands, Jehoash was paraded from the temple to the palace, where he was to live for many years. (II Kings 11:19-21; II Chronicles 23:18-21.)
Restoring the Faith
Under the priest's influence, Jehoash grew up to be a just and capable ruler. Although he followed God most of his life, he did little to abolish the sacrificing that occasionally took place in other places besides the temple, which had been vandalized by Athaliah's sons. (II Chronicles 24:7.) It was Jehoash's ambition, as he matured, to have it repaired, even though it would be costly to restore it close to its original condition. To raise the money, Jehoash suggested to Jehoiada and his priests that some of them travel around Judah and ask for contributions, as God had commanded through Moses. (Exodus 35:4-10.) The priests didn't succeed in collecting very much money, nor did they try very diligently. Jehoiada was a courageous and righteous high priest. But in this case he was somewhat slack in asking others to do their duty. (II Kings 12:1-8; II Chronicles 24:1-6.)
Jehoash was disappointed. But he did not lose faith in God or confidence in his high priest. He spoke to Jehoiada again about the matter a long time later, telling the priest to have a large chest placed at the gate of the temple by the right side of the altar. This heavy chest had a small opening at the top through which coins and gold and silver in other forms could be dropped by those who visited the temple or went by. It was announced throughout the country what the chest was for.
After a few days the chest was brought to the palace and opened. Both Jehoash and Jehoiada were surprised to find a great amount of coins, gold and silver in it. They were pleased at this display of generosity by the people. For weeks the wooden chest was put by the altar every morning and emptied every night. Enough money was taken in to finally start repair of the temple on a large scale. (II Kings 12:9-10; II Chronicles 24:8-11.)
For many months, skilled masons, carpenters, and metalsmiths worked on the temple. Together with their helpers and laborers, the work force was considerable. Thousands of stones were replaced, much new woodwork and many beams put in and metal decorations restored. When the work was finished there was more than enough money to pay for labor and materials. Jehoiada used most of what remained to fashion gold and silver bowls and utensils to be used by the priests in their functions.
With the beauty and equipment of the temple restored, more and more people came to worship. It was an era when the right kind of rulership resulted in greater welfare for the people, because so many of them, including the priest and honest workmen, followed their king's good example. (II Kings 12:11-16; II Chronicles 24:12-14.)
Thus conditions in Judah were much better, for two or three decades, than they had been since Jehoshaphat's time. Then an unfortunate event took place. It was Jehoiada's death at the age of a hundred and thirty years. For a long time this exceptional priest, aided by a wonderful wife, had exerted the power of a king, and to the country's advantage. He was considered so close to being a ruler that he was honored by being buried among the kings of Judah at Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 24:15-16.)
Idolatry Creeps In
From then on, without the wise influence of Jehoiada, matters in Judah took a turn in the wrong direction. The change started when leaders from all parts of the nation came to bring gifts to the king and to praise and flatter him. They also came to ask a favor of him. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20; II Chronicles 24:17.)
"Our people have been offering sacrifices at the temple in great numbers," one of the leaders told Jehoash. "They have been coming here so often that many are becoming needy because of the time and expense required to make the round trip to Jerusalem. They want to continue being obedient, but they have no choice but to remain at home. Would it not be better to allow them to worship and sacrifice at nearer altars built at several more convenient locations in Judah?"
The king pondered. He knew what it would mean if the people were allowed to worship at other altars in places of their own choosing. Jehoash felt that this situation was somewhat exaggerated. The matter had been brought to him before. He had agreed with Jehoiada that there should be one place of worship -- Jerusalem. But now, with Jehoiada gone, the king could gain a great measure of popularity by acceding to the desires of these influential men who had brought him such costly gifts in a deliberate attempt to wrongly influence his judgment.
"I wish everyone in Judah could come often to the temple," Jehoash observed, "but rather than have some miss the opportunity to make their offerings, now that the situation is growing worse, I think that it should be made possible for them to go to locations nearer their homes."
If he had studied God's law as required, he would have known it was prohibited to make sacrifices and offerings at altars in other places, and that God didn't expect the people to do more than they were able to afford. (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 12:1-7; 16:16-17; 17:18-20; I Kings 14:21.)
The visitors were elated at the king's decision, which meant that the idolatry they secretly favored would have more freedom to spread in Judah. At first, when the people learned they weren't required to go to Jerusalem, they sacrificed only to God on their various altars. Influenced by so-called priests who wanted to substitute other gods for the God of Israel, they were soon back to worshipping idols, including images of Baal and other hideous likenesses of animals.
This turn of events displeased God, but instead of immediately punishing the idolaters, He sent prophets to warn of disaster to come unless the idol worship ceased. The warnings were ignored. (II Chronicles 24:18-19.)
Jehoiada's sons took over management of the temple functions after the death of the high priest. Because of the influence of exceptional parents, they were very faithful to their responsibilities. One of them, Zechariah, one day was inspired to give his audience the same kind of warning the prophets had been delivering.
An Evil King's Verdict
"Our king and many lesser leaders of Judah are breaking God's commandments by encouraging our people to follow pagan gods," Zechariah declared. "Neither they nor the people seem concerned about the terrible price they will have to pay for this corruption. They have forsaken God. Now God will forsake them. They will have no protection when calamity comes, and it's coming soon."
Zechariah's words were immediately reported to Jehoash, who was far from happy to learn that he had been referred to in any but a complimentary manner. Even though Zechariah's aged father and mother had saved Jehoash from being murdered when he was a child, King Jehoash, now influenced by evil younger leaders, callously issued a shocking order.
"I'm weary of prophets and priests nagging and advising me," Jehoash muttered angrily. "I'm going to make an example of Zechariah. Have people stone him. Use people who will appear to be a cross-section of the public, so that observers will receive the impression that many inhabitants of Judah don't approve of what he says."
An unusually large crowd gathered at the temple. Men and women throughout the congregation surged toward the priest and hurled stones at him. Most of the missiles missed Zechariah, but the few that found their mark fatally injured him. There was much shouting, running and confusion.
"Don't be too concerned about my attackers," Zechariah told those who tried to help him just before he died. "God will deal with them just as He will deal with whoever told them to do this thing." (II Chronicles 24:20-22.)
Meanwhile in Samaria... Before this, up in Samaria, King Jehu had begun to be troubled by invasions of Arameans in Syria under the command of Hazael, as Elisha predicted would happen. After Jehu died, his son Jehoahaz became king of the ten tribes of Israel. (II Kings 10:30-36.)
At first he wasn't much of an improvement over his father, but after struggling through a miserable period of war with the Arameans, he decided to look to God for help.
By this time the Arameans had taken over Israel's territory east of the Jordan river, which was land belonging to the tribes of Manasseh, Reuben and Gad. The invaders moved westward slaughtering most of Jehoahaz' army. They brought most of the people of the ten tribes under subjection, and it was at this point that the king of Israel desperately appealed to God to spare the nation.
God intended to bring Israel out of the grip of the Arameans, but not through Jehoahaz or because of his prayers for help. The king of Israel did nothing to put idolatry out of his nation nor even out of Samaria.
Worship of the goddess Astarte or Ishtar, who was supposed to have come from an egg, had become almost as popular as that of Baal. Most people today believe we have no part in pagan practices. We do in many ways, however. Many observe Easter (the word came from the name Ishtar or Astarte) with displays of colored eggs that are rolled, given away in baskets, hidden for children to find, etc.
Anxious to push on to further conquest, the Arameans left Samaria and moved southward, leaving Jehoahaz with only fifty horsemen, ten chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers left alive -- a small fighting force for most of the tribes of Israel. (II Kings 13:1-8.)
The coming of the invaders into Judah was a shock to Jehoash, who had vainly hoped that Hazael would be content with overrunning only the northern nation of Israel. As the hordes of Arameans neared Jerusalem, the king became increasingly frantic. He was convinced that it would be the same as suicide to pit his army against that of the enemy. He could see only one possible way of avoiding an attack on Jerusalem and its capture, and that possibility seemed very slim.
King Hazael, riding at the head of his army, was puzzled when he met a number of soldiers carrying boxes instead of arms and equipment. Through interpreters he learned that they had come up from Jerusalem to meet him.
"King Jehoash wishes you to know that he wants to remain at peace with you," the officer in charge explained. "To prove his sincerity, he has sent you gifts."
The men put containers before Hazael, who told his officers to open a few of them. When the Arameans saw the beautiful gold vessels, silver trumpets and ornaments set with precious stones, they grinned with pleasure. (II Kings 12:17-18.)
"If all the gifts are this valuable, there is a great fortune here," one of Hazael's officers whispered to him.
"I know," Hazael replied in a low voice. "What I'd also like to know is whether this is to pay us to stay out of Judah or whether it's bait to make certain that we go directly to Jerusalem for more -- and fall into some kind of trap."
"Your army is too big to trap, sir" the officer said. "The God of Judah is supposed to live at Jerusalem," Hazael said. "He has done some unbelievable things to Judah's enemies."
The king of Syria was trying to decide whether to go on to attack Jerusalem or turn around and return to his native country.
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Face to Face With Reality
KING Hazael of Syria was approaching Jerusalem with his army, intending to attack the city, when he received very valuable gifts sent by Jehoash, king of Judah. Hazael was sure that the gifts were either to pay him to leave Judah or were to lure him to Jerusalem for more wealth -- and into some kind of ambush. He had to decide at once which course to take.
A Temporary Lull
"Why should we risk anything by going against Jerusalem, the high walls of which are probably crawling with many thousands of defenders?" Hazael asked his officers. "If these gifts are meant to pay us to return home, we can do well to accept them without losing even one man. Then we can always return another time to see how matters will develop." (II Kings 12:17-18.)
Jehoash was almost delirious with relief when he heard what had happened. He had been spared from certain disaster, for which he had given up most of the valuable objects in his palace that were portable. But the greatest part of what he had paid had come from another source. The king had ruthlessly stripped the temple of its hallowed treasures to buy his way out of an enemy attack!
Jehoash's first surge of elation, shared by thousands later when they heard about it, subsided considerably after he became troubled with the notion that Hazael might swing his army around and come to Jerusalem after all. He felt safe only after reports were brought to him that the Syrians had crossed the Jordan and were well on their way up the east side of the river.
But security didn't last long. About a year later Jehoash received the staggering news that Syrian soldiers were streaming westward across the Jordan river and were marching directly toward Jerusalem. The king fell into a greater state of frenzy than he had gone through the previous year. This time he didn't have enough left to pay his way out of war. While he hastily made defense plans with his officers, another report came that the Syrians numbered only a few hundred.
Everyone's mood, especially that of Jehoash, abruptly changed. Filled with confidence, the king told his officers to forget about defending Jerusalem and go out and slaughter the intruders.
The two armies came within view of each other only a few miles north of the capital. The sight of thousands of oncoming soldiers didn't deter the Syrians, who soon came face to face with these men of Judah.
"Which of you is Hazael?" Jehoash asked through an interpreter.
"King Hazael is not with us," a Syrian officer replied. "I am commander of these men."
"How can your king be so foolish as to believe that you can war against us with so few soldiers?" Jehoash inquired, staring disdainfully at the Syrian troops.
Payoff Multiplies Greed
"We're not here to fight," the Syrian commander explained. "A year ago King Hazael accepted tribute from you for not invading Judah. He expects tribute every year. We have come to collect it."
"This is ridiculous!" Jehoash barked. "There is no such understanding! None of you will return to take back anything to your king!"
"See the men on horses on that north rise?" the Syrian officer asked, pointing. "At least they'll take news back to King Hazael. If we are destroyed, so will you be when the whole army of Syria comes to ravage Judah!"
In his anger Jehoash was more inclined toward action than caution. Minutes later a battle was in progress. It didn't go the way Jehoash was sure it would. Perhaps the soldiers of Judah were troubled by the notion that the rest of the Syrian army was just over the horizon. Whatever the problem, they were in no mood to fight. Their desire was to hastily retreat.
It was incredible, but Hazael's hundreds triumphed over Jehoash's thousands. God permitted the Syrians to punish Judah for idolatry. (II Chronicles 24:23-24.)
Jehoash fled to his palace, but there was no safety there. The victorious Syrians came on to Jerusalem, forced their way inside the walls and seized many things of value that they could carry, including objects from the king's palace. When the invaders finally left, days later, the army of Judah was almost nonexistent and Jehoash had become very ill from the pressures and distress of his worrisome situation. He was forced to spend days in bed, during which he was attended, among others, by two servants who had been in his service for considerable time.
They had overheard Jehoash give the order to have the priest Zechariah stoned, and they hated their master for it. Now that he was at their mercy they saw to it, in their misguided sense of justice, that the king didn't leave his bed until he was lifeless.
Jehoash was buried in Jerusalem, but because he hadn't earned much respect as a ruler, he wasn't buried in the tombs of the kings of Judah. (II Kings 12:19-21; II Chronicles 24:25-27.)
Amaziah, Jehoash's son, became the next king of Judah. He was only twenty-five years of age at the time, but he used more wisdom as king than his father had used in the latter years of his reign. He didn't manage to stop his people from false worship at various places, but he reestablished greater worship at the temple. Meanwhile, he tracked down the murderers of his father, and had them executed. (II Kings 14:1-6; II Chronicles 25:1-4.)
One of Amaziah's ambitions was to organize a new, large army to replace the one that had been devastated by the Syrians. The king succeeded by building it of choice young men of twenty years and up from the nation of Judah. It reached three hundred thousand.
But Amaziah wasn't satisfied with that figure. He wanted a larger army so that he could go to Edom and be certain of exacting the tribute the Edomites had refused to pay since King Jehoram's time.
Amaziah couldn't find more men in his kingdom who could be developed into superior fighting men, but he managed to draw a hundred thousand men of Ephraim out of the ten-tribed nation of Israel by offering a thousand pounds of silver in payment.
No Mercenaries Needed
With a well-trained force of four hundred thousand men, Amaziah felt that he was ready for certain victory over the Edomites. Just as he was about to take his army on the planned conquest, a man of God came to talk to him.
"God has sent me to warn you not to use the hundred thousand men you bought into your army. They are not the kind of men to fight your battles. If you take them with you, you will be defeated by the Edomites. It is God who determines the outcome of a battle, and not the number of men involved."
"But I've already paid a fortune to these men to be a part of my army," Amaziah pointed out, irritated by the intrusion of the man of God into his affairs.
"If you're concerned about a loss, God can more than make up for it by giving you great spoils," the prophet said.
Amaziah was troubled. To relinquish a fourth of his army seemed a mad thing to do. At first he was determined not to do it, but his fear of losing to the Edomites changed his mind. Reluctantly he gave orders to his astonished top officers to separate from the army of Judah the Ephraimite mercenaries from Israel.
When the men from the northern tribes were told to return to their homes, they made little effort to hide their anger. To them, mostly experienced soldiers, it was an insult to learn that they were unwanted in a war venture. There was nothing to be gained by telling them why they were being discharged. They would not have understood. (II Chronicles 25:5-10.)
Amaziah departed with his three hundred thousand men to the south, regretting that he was leaving behind a hundred thousand soldiers in an ugly mood. As soon as the army of Judah was well on its way, that hundred thousand decided to take from Judah what they might have earned if they could have stayed in Amaziah's army. And at the same time to take back several towns a former king of Judah had taken from Israel in battle. (II Chronicles 13:13-20.) So, on their way to the north they vengefully attacked those towns now in northern Judah, killing three thousand men and taking everything of value they could carry. (II Chronicles 25:13.)
The arrival of the army of Judah didn't surprise the Edomites, whose spies and lookouts kept them posted. They were ready for battle in the Valley of Salt, directly south of the Dead Sea. When the fighting was over, ten thousand Edomites were dead and ten thousand more had been captured. From there Amaziah moved southward to conquer the fortress city of Selah -- later known as Petra -- the Edomite capital built in a rocky area in the Mt. Seir range. There, from one of the many high cliffs, the ten thousand captives were thrown into a gorge. (II Kings 14:7; II Chronicles 25:11-12.)
Having whipped Edom into a state of subjection, Amaziah and his army returned home in triumph. But when the king learned what the hundred thousand soldiers who had been discharged had done, he was infuriated.
"That king at Samaria is protecting those murderers!" Amaziah, king of Judah, stormed. "I must go up there and demand that they be punished or turned over to me!"
Meanwhile, in Israel...
The king in Samaria to whom Amaziah referred was the son of Jehoahaz, the ruler the Syrians had left with such a small army. (II Kings 13:1-7.) After King Jehoahaz was slain, his son Joash had become king of the ten tribes. He wasn't any more obedient to God than his father, although when he heard that Elisha was seriously ill he went to visit him because he believed that Elisha could prevail upon God to help Israel. By that time Joash had built up a much larger army by which he hoped to release Israel from obeisance to the Syrians. Elisha told him that he would triumph over the Syrians in three battles. (II Kings 13:14-19.) Israel's freedom from the Syrians would thus be accomplished to fulfill-the promise God had made to King Jehoahaz years previously. (II Kings 13:4.) That was the aging prophet's last prediction. Joash saw to it that the prophet Elisha was honorably entombed in a crypt not far from Samaria.
Later, when another body was brought to the crypt for burial, the bearers saw a mounted band of Moabite marauders coming across the plain. Eager to get the burial over so that they could get out of sight, they jerked the crypt door back and dumped the corpse inside. As they crouched behind some boulders out of sight of the Moabites, they were terrified to see the one whom they threw into the crypt crawl out of the crypt and | gaze around in bewilderment. It was no longer a corpse but a living | man. The body had come in contact with the swathed remains of t Elisha, and life had been restored ; to the man who was dropped into the tomb. Fifteen major recorded miracles had been performed through the prophet while he lived. The sixteenth occurred even after his death, to help Israel learn the lesson of what God's power can do. (II Kings 13:20-21.)
Elisha's prediction that Joash would triumph over the Syrians was fulfilled not long after the prophet's death. The Israelites won the three battles Elisha mentioned and regained the towns the Syrians had captured. By this time King Hazael had died. His son, Ben-hadad, led the Syrian troops against Joash's army without success. Israel's victory wasn't because of the obedience of the Israelites. It came about because of Jehoahaz' prayer and because God had promised Abraham that He would not entirely cast away His people Israel. (Genesis 13:15; 28:13-15.)
An Idolater Warned
Meanwhile, Amaziah, king of Judah, had increasingly vengeful feelings about what the soldiers from Israel had done to so many people in Judah. At first he was intent on going up to Samaria with his army and demanding that King Joash round up the hundred thousand offenders for punishment. Before he could get around to making this rash move, he was visited again by the same man of God who had told him that if he used that hundred thousand men in his army, the Edomites would defeat him. ;'If you take your army to Samaria, you will end up in a battle in which you will be ingloriously routed," the man of God warned Amaziah.
"Why must you always bring bad news to me?" Amaziah asked irritably.
"You can hardly expect good news under the circumstances," the man of God replied. "God is not pleased because you have brought back images of pagan gods from Edom. He is even less pleased because you have been worshipping those same images." (II Chronicles 25:14-15.)
Amaziah was embarrassed and angered by this accusation. The images had some strange fascination for him. He had gone so far as to burn incense before some of them and ask for protection and triumph in future battles -- despite the fact that he knew those gods didn't save Edom when he himself conquered them!
"I hire a staff of advisers," Amaziah indignantly informed the man of God, "but I don't recall that you are among them. Keep your advice to yourself or you could find yourself on the sharp end of a spear."
"I won't say more than to repeat that God will destroy you because you have turned to idolatry," the man of God said, walking away shaking his head. "The course of events could be different if you would do what is right." (II Chronicles 25:16.)
Amaziah was again troubled. He feared that the man of God was right, but at the same time he wanted satisfaction from King Joash. Finally, after conferring with advisers, he decided that instead of making a lightning thrust at Samaria, he would send a challenge to the king of the ten tribes of Israel. A few hours later, riders from Jerusalem brought a message to Joash.
Face to Face
"You are aware of what men of your nation have done to Judah, and yet you have remained strangely silent about it," the message read. "It's your responsibility to seek out and punish the offenders. If you refuse or fail, I shall come up with my army to meet you face to face to settle the matter." (II Chronicles 25:17.)
The messengers returned to Judah with a stinging reply from Joash that caused Amaziah to regret that he had wasted time with a letter to the ruler of the ten tribes. The letter began by comparing Amaziah to a thistle and Joash to a cedar tree. Out of the forest in which the cedar grew came a fierce animal. The animal trampled the thistle because it made a ridiculous demand of the cedar.
"I have heard that you are boasting of how you conquered the Edomites," Joash's reply went on. "That victory has obviously swelled both your confidence and your head. At the same time your wisdom has shrunk, or you would have the good sense to remain in Jerusalem. Why should you meddle in something that will result in harm to you, your army and your nation?"
These words sent Amaziah into a rage. He summoned his top officers to prepare for an immediate invasion of the territory north of Judah. This was all in accordance with God's plan. The infuriating letter roused the king of Judah to unwise action because he had become a follower of Edomite idols and had advocated their worship to many in Judah. Amaziah had his opportunity to give up idolatry and spare himself when the prophet warned him.
Led by Amaziah, a host of Judah's warriors marched out from Jerusalem, bound for a showdown at Samaria. After moving about ten miles, the king and his army came to an unexpected obstruction. That obstruction consisted of Joash and his troops, who had already reached Judah. (II Chronicles 25:18-21.)
As Amaziah had requested, the two kings were now face to face.
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Jonah and the "Whale"
KING AMAZIAH of Judah and King Joash of the ten-tribed nation of Israel, accompanied by their respective armies, had a surprise meeting about ten miles from Jerusalem. (II Kings 14:1-11; II Chronicles 25:1721.)
"Why have you brought your men to the soil of Judah?" asked Amaziah haughtily.
The Jews Fight Israel
"To keep your army off the soil of my kingdom," Joash sternly replied.
The inevitable battle was only minutes old when it was evident which side would win. The soldiers of Judah lacked the desire to fight. What started as a large fray ended in a massive rout of Amaziah's men, many of whom escaped to the south. Amaziah and his top officers had no choice but to hastily follow.
But escape, if any, wasn't going to be that simple. Amaziah's speeding chariot was surrounded by Joash's cavalry and forced to a halt. (II Kings 14:12; II Chronicles 25:22.) As he was taken prisoner, the king of Judah bitterly recalled the warnings of the prophet. (II Chronicles 25:1416.)
Joash and his army moved on to Jerusalem, which he planned to invade. He found the barred gates were very strong and the walls unusually high, but he didn't allow these conditions to deter him. He displayed the captive king of Judah before the guards on the walls.
"Order your guards to open the gates," Joash told Amaziah. Shackled in his chariot, Amaziah refused to say anything. "Don't you recognize your king in shackles?" one of Joash's officers shouted up to the guards. "Open the gates, and we won't kill him!"
The guards moved nervously about, but the gates remained closed.
"There has been enough delay!" Joash barked. "A gate isn't the only way into this city! Break down the wall!"
The high, thick wall was an irksome challenge to Joash. He wanted to prove that it could be penetrated. By the use of heavy battering rams propelled by a line of soldiers, a section of the wall about seven hundred feet long was gradually and painfully cracked into sections that thundered down into a state of rubble. (II Kings 14:13; II Chronicles 25:23.)
Many men lost their lives in this rash operation. Those atop the wall hurled all kinds of missiles down on the invaders. It would have been simpler, faster and safer to ram through the gates, but Joash was stubbornly determined to go through the wall.
A path was cleared through the debris. The attackers poured inside the city, battling Amaziah's guards into submission. Then Joash, king of Israel triumphantly rode over the rubble in his chariot, followed by his officers and the shackled Amaziah, king of Judah.
For hours Joash's men ransacked Jerusalem. The temple and the royal palace provided most of the spoils. Just before the invaders left, they released Amaziah, who expected death any moment as he watched his palace being looted.
"How do you know that I won't muster another army and come up to besiege Samaria?" Amaziah asked Joash.
"I don't," Joash answered. "But if you do, members of your family will be the first to die. I'm taking most of them with me!" (II Kings 14:14; II Chronicles 25:24.)
God Strengthens Israel
Although he had been defeated in war, had lost most of his personal wealth, had been humiliated and disgraced and had become unpopular with a great part of his people, Amaziah managed, with difficulty, to stay in power in Judah. Joash, ruler of the ten tribes, died not long after invading Jerusalem, but Amaziah no longer had any interest in war nor in taking advantage of the loss of Joash's firm leadership. For fifteen more years he remained the ruler of Judah, but with increasing opposition.
One day he was informed that there was a plot to assassinate him by certain men who wanted to come into power in Judah. Amaziah was so troubled by this report that he fled from Jerusalem to the town of Lachish, about forty miles southwest of the capital of Judah. It was very close to Philistia, and only about seven miles from the east shore of the Great Sea. By means of watchful agents and high rewards, Amaziah's residence was found and reported to his opponents, who sent assassins to Lachish to carry out their murderous orders. Amaziah's body was carried back to Jerusalem, where he was buried with the former kings of Judah. (II Kings 14:17-20; II Chronicles 25:25-28.)
Years before Amaziah's death, the king of Israel, Joash, had been succeeded by a son, Jeroboam, who followed in the ways of the other King Jeroboam who had begun his reign a hundred and twenty-eight years previously. (II Kings 14:15-16, 23-24).
After the death of Joash, who had triumphed over the Syrians, those ancient enemies again returned from the east to reduce the northern nation Israel to a weakened state. God inspired Jeroboam, in spite of his wrong pursuits, with the desire to shake off the control of the Syrians and restore the boundaries of Israel to where Joshua had proclaimed, according to God's instruction, they should be.
This inspiration started out as a desire for power and revenge. Jeroboam's ambition was greatly strengthened when a prophet named Jonah disclosed to him that he, the king, was destined by God to bring Israel out of its wretched state and expand it once more almost to the size it was when Solomon reigned.
Believing that the God of Israel would protect him in whatever he did to develop Israel, Jeroboam's confidence was increased. Like so many people of that time -- and this -- he respected and even believed God, but at the same time he chose to worship only the gods he could see.
Over the years, through many surprise attacks and battles, Jeroboam took back all the cities, towns and land that had been captured by Syria. He freed the Israelite prisoners, took the Syrian capital, Damascus, and recaptured the city of Hamath, far to the north. From there southward to the east coast of the Dead Sea he reclaimed all territory that God had given to the whole of Israel in Joshua's time. (II Kings 14:25-27.)
Prosperity and Idolatry
Jeroboam became the most powerful ruler of the ten tribes since Israel had become divided. The larger and more prosperous the northern kingdom became, unfortunately, the more careless the people became in their attitude toward God. Many reasoned that the growing prosperity was due to an increase in religious activity.
However, this often consisted of a strange, contrived worship of images that were supposed to represent a composite of God and pagan deities. This would mean breaking the first three Commandments. God did not -- and does not -- reward such worship with prosperity.
This was the last time the northern kingdom, the House of Israel, was to experience such national welfare and strength. The years of that kingdom were numbered. Jonah, the prophet who had predicted that Jeroboam would beat Israel's enemies back, probably knew what Israel's future would be, and that God was allowing the nation to be strong for a time before it would cease to be a nation unless the people turned from idolatry.
Jonah must also have known that one way God was making the Syrians conquerable was by allowing Assyria, a nation to the east, to war with the Syrians. This growing country was gradually swallowing up surrounding regions and becoming powerful at the same time Israel was gaining strength.
Like the people of Israel, the people of Assyria became more corrupt as the nation became more prosperous. The inhabitants of Nineveh, the sprawling capital of Assyria on the Tigris river, were especially lawless and reprobate. God was so displeased with them that he decided to destroy the city, but not without first warning the inhabitants so that any innocent people would have a chance to escape.
Jonah was surprised when God told him that he should make the long trip to Nineveh to warn the Assyrian people what would soon happen, but the more Jonah thought about it, the less enthusiasm he had for the task. He reasoned that if the people repented after his warning them, God might spare them and he, Jonah, would be branded a false prophet and lose his life. Besides, he hoped that Nineveh would be wiped out. Otherwise, the Assyrians would probably triumph over the Syrians and come westward to attack Israel.
This prospect was part of God's plan. Through Jonah God had warned the Israelites about their idolatry. They had refused to heed. Now God intended to warn a Gentile people. If they were to heed and be spared, it would be a sobering warning for Israel.
The prophet knew that he couldn't escape from God, but he reasoned that if he could quickly get out of Israel, God might choose another prophet there to go to Nineveh. He made a hurried trip to the seaport of Joppa on the coast of Dan. There he found a sailing vessel about to set out for another port close to what is now known as the Rock of Gibraltar in Spain. That point was about as far as he could get from Israel as fast as possible. Jonah hoped God would forget about him. Furthermore, it was in the opposite direction from Nineveh. (Jonah 1:1-3.)
Having paid his passage, Jonah went below deck to rest. After his hasty trip to Joppa he was so weary that he fell asleep at once. Later he awakened to find the ship's captain roughly shaking him. He was aware of a howling wind, pounding waves and violent rocking of the vessel.
Divine Fury Stops the Runaway
"Wake up, man!" the captain shouted. "How can you sleep through this storm? If it gets any worse, we'll capsize! Whoever your God is, pray to Him for your life! We've already had to throw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship!"
Jonah struggled to his feet, crawled up the hatchway and stared out at the billowing, spray-shrouded water crashing every few seconds over the deck of the vessel.
"Someone on this ship is causing a curse on us!" the superstitious sailors complained to the captain. "We must draw lots to find out who it is!"
The captain agreed, not knowing how right the sailors were. Jonah drew the lot, through God's influence, to point out that he was the cause of the trouble. The crew swarmed accusingly around him. (Jonah 1:4-7.)
"Who are you?" the sailors asked. "Where did you come from? Why do you want to go across the Great Sea?"
"I am from Israel and I am a prophet of the God of Israel," Jonah answered. "I was foolishly trying to escape from Him because of a difficult thing He required of me. Now I know that my God has caused this storm to prevent my running away."
"We've heard of how terrible your God can be!" one of the frightened sailors exclaimed. "What must be done to quell His anger?"
"Throw me off the ship!" Jonah shouted above the noise of the storm. "The wind will abate as soon as I am gone!"
The crew struggled stubbornly to move the ship shoreward, but the east wind blowing from the land was too much for them. These heathen sailors, who had gods of their own, surprisingly raised their voices to Jonah's God to spare them and forgive them for what they were reluctantly about to do. Only then did they take hold of the repentant, praying prophet, lift him off his knees and swing him over the leeward rail. The last they saw of him, he was valiantly trying to keep his head above water, though he knew he couldn't continue doing so much longer.
The sailors were amazed at how suddenly the wind abated. They were so shaken by this miracle that they built a small altar on the deck, offered a sacrifice and vowed loyalty to God before sailing on westward over a calm sea. (Jonah 1:8-16.)
After being swept away from the ship, Jonah kept afloat for a short time. Just when he became too weary to paddle and tread any longer, he had the dreadful sensation of being sucked under the water by some great force. From then on, for quite some time, he wasn't certain what was happening. Vaguely he felt that he had been drawn into some sort of soft, dark, cramped area. After that he had the feeling of considerable movement about him, as though his container could be moving about with many twists and turns.
The Miracle Fish
Hours went by. Jonah was certain that he was under the surface of the sea, yet he was able to breathe. Eventually he arrived at the fantastic conclusion that he had been swallowed by a very large fish. Earnestly he prayed that he would be delivered from his captor before he was consumed by its digestive process.
After what seemed a very long time, the prophet was startled by a violent motion, as though he was being shot like an arrow from a giant bow. After recovering from his confusion, he realized that he was on a beach. Only a few feet away, in shallow water, was a very large fish whose broad mouth, directed toward Jonah, was slowly opening and closing as it gasped for oxygen it could get only through water. From the fish's teeth hung shreds of Jonah's torn coat. The prophet knew then that he hadn't just imagined things.
The fish had swallowed him, carried him to some shore unfamiliar to him, and had disgorged him on the beach! As Jonah pondered these startling facts and how much he had to be thankful for, the fish twisted violently to and fro. Finally it managed to get back into deep water, where it disappeared. (Jonah 1:17; 2:1-10.)
Abruptly Jonah was aware that he wasn't alone. He was surprised to see several men staring silently at him from only a short distance away.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here," they demanded to know. Jonah called out in Assyrian, "I am a prophet of the God of Israel, and I am sent by Him with a warning message for your king and your people!"
From a brief conversation with these men he was amazed to learn that he had been three full days and nights inside the fish, and that he was now standing on the south shore of what later was called the Black Sea! God had brought him all the way up through the Aegean Sea and had deposited him just north of Assyria.
About eight and a half centuries later, Jesus pointed out that there would be only one sign that He was the Son of God. That sign was that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights, just before being resurrected, just as Jonah was held inside the fish for three days and three nights before being freed. (Matthew 12:38-41.)
The Great City Nineveh
It was painfully clear to Jonah that God had brought him close to Assyria in spite of his efforts to evade doing the thing God told him to do. He realized, at last, that it was futile to go against God's will. This was even plainer to him when the men insisted on taking him to Nineveh. God's purpose was to use them in getting the prophet to Nineveh to warn that city of impending destruction.
From the town of Sinope, near where Jonah had landed, it was about five hundred miles south to Assyria's sprawling capital. There, on the streets teeming with thousands of people, Jonah was pointed out as the man brought to Assyria by a huge fish. Excited, curious Assyrians gathered to stare. Jonah was irked and embarrassed at being put on display, but he realized that this situation was created for what he must do.
Taking advantage of all the attention, Jonah repeatedly shouted his message. "I have been sent by the God of Israel to warn you that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days!" (Jonah 3:1-4.)
The surprised crowd was silent for a few seconds. Then the people began to mutter, many of them in anger.
Bible Story Book Index
Even Prophets and Kings Must Repent
ON THE crowded streets of Nineveh, Jonah the prophet proclaimed that destruction was coming to that city in forty days. (Jonah 3:1-4.) Some of his startled hearers moved menacingly toward him. Others advised them to use caution.
A Gentile King Listens
News of this strange man with his disturbing message quickly spread through the city. As the crowd increased, Jonah repeated his warning, which was having an increasingly troublesome effect.
There were jeers and angry retorts, but most of the people refrained from speaking out because of the miraculous report of Jonah's coming out of a fish's mouth!
Suddenly two stern-faced officers emerged from the crowd, strode up to Jonah and informed him that they had orders to take him to the king of Assyria for questioning. The prophet was dismayed. He reasoned that if he weren't put to death, he would probably be imprisoned and die in the destruction of Nineveh.
Matters appeared grim for Jonah, but he was about to learn that his fears were unfounded and that the Assyrian ruler was considerably different from what he imagined him to be.
"I know about what you've been telling the people," the king said to Jonah after the prophet had been escorted to the palace. "Now I want to learn from you what this is all about."
Jonah explained who he was, why he was in Nineveh and that he completely believed what he had been telling the people.
"Many reports about the great power of the God of Israel have come to me over the years," the king observed. "I have heard what happened to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah a thousand years ago. Perhaps I am foolish to believe that it happened, but I want no part of the wrath of your God. I can't change the ways of my people overnight, but I can decree that they fast for the next few days and cry to your God to change His mind and spare us."
"How can you force people to be repentant?" Jonah asked the king.
"I can't," was the reply. "My people may be a wicked lot, but they do have a certain respect for authority and usually follow their leader's example. My mistake has been in not exerting enough authority and good influence over them. Therefore I shall be the first to put aside my robes, dress myself in sackcloth and pray to your God in public to spare us. Those who refuse to follow my example will surely be the first to die."
The People Repent
Jonah was surprised that the king of this pagan nation was affected so strongly by the prophet's warning. The ruler of Assyria immediately ordered that all the Ninevites, including their animals, refrain from eating and drinking.
Furthermore, animals as well as people were to be dressed in sackcloth. The Ninevites were also commanded to forego their regular pursuits and spend their time seriously calling on the Great God of Israel, possessor of Heaven and Earth, not to destroy Nineveh.
The people willingly obeyed the king's orders because they were fearful of what would happen to them. Within hours the tempo, mood and outlook of the people of this vast Gentile city were abruptly altered. The people had changed from their wicked ways. (Jonah 3:5-9.)
By this time the forty days Jonah had mentioned had almost expired. Tension and fear mounted rapidly.
Jonah was free to go where he pleased. He left, but only to go a mile or so from the east wall to take up a temporary residence with his burro in a rocky spot from which he could command a good view of Nineveh but could take safety behind boulders if the annihilation of the city came about by some exceedingly violent means. (Jonah 4:5.)
An ominous, nerve-racking silence came over Nineveh as the hours dragged by. The fortieth day dawned. Thousands fearfully wondered if the end would come through an earthquake, a hurricane or by fire from the sky.
As the day drew to a close, Jonah stared from behind a boulder, waiting in wearing apprehension for the terrible thing he hoped for God to do. He firmly held the tether of his burro, lest the animal bolt and run at some sudden loud noise or light. The prophet shivered with suspense as the sun disappeared behind Nineveh's walls and sank beyond the horizon of the distant western desert -- the fortieth day was over and God had not sent the evil Jonah so expected.
Those were supposed to be the fatal moments, but nothing happened except the advent of darkness. Jonah was puzzled. All night he kept a vigil beside the boulder. By the time the sun came up over the eastern mountains, the prophet's perplexity had turned to disappointment. He was resentful and even angry because God had failed to do what He had threatened to do. (Jonah 3:10.)
"Back when you first told me to go to Nineveh I was afraid that this thing would happen," Jonah said aloud irritably, intending that God would hear his opinion. "That's why I took a ship to the west. I knew that You are merciful, kind and slow to anger, and that You very likely would decide to spare the Ninevites if they showed any desire to repent. They did and You changed Your mind. Now the Assyrians will think of me only as one who has deceived them. When they find me, they'll kill me. I want You to take my life. I would rather die by Your hand than by the bloody weapons of Ninevites who are angry because I caused them so much fear and terror." (Jonah 4:1-3.)
Jonah continued to kneel for a time, expecting God to snatch his life from him at any moment. But as in the case of Nineveh, nothing happened. Instead, the prophet was startled to hear a distinct voice. He looked quickly around him, but the only living thing he could see was his burro. It obviously heard nothing.
"You are angry with Me, your God," the voice uttered. "Do you consider that wise? Why are you disappointed because the people of Nineveh are still alive? Do you think that they are more concerned with you than with knowing that they have been allowed to live?" (Jonah 4:4.)
"I dare not show myself to these men who will become the enemies of Israel as soon as they conquer the Syrians," was Jonah's bitter answer.
"The Israelites have refused to repent after I warned them through you what would happen to them if they continued in idolatry," God pointed out. (II Kings 14:25.) "They don't have as much respect for their Creator as do the Assyrians. Then why should I not use the Assyrians to punish them?"
Jonah was miserable. Besides his mental distress, a physical problem was rapidly developing. As the sun went higher, the heat became very intense. Jonah tried to produce some shade by constructing a kind of booth out from the boulder. All he had to use were rocks and dried weeds and branches, and he wasn't very successful. He feared to move elsewhere lest he be discovered and attacked, though his fears were ungrounded. All he could do was sit with his coat over his head and hope that he would survive the almost unbearable rays of the blazing sun.
Next morning Jonah was startled to find that he was in the shade of a large plant that overnight had sprung out of the ground. Broad, green leaves were spreading themselves between him and the sky, shielding him from the hot solar rays that had plagued him earlier. He realized that this was something that God had miraculously prepared for his relief. He was pleased and thankful, but his unhappy attitude concerning Nineveh continued to gnaw at his mind. (Jonah 4:6.)
Next day dawned hot again, but Jonah remained comfortable under the wide leaves of the unusual plant. Then, as suddenly as it had come up, the plant withered and its leaves shriveled. Again the prophet was exposed to the almost unbearable heat. As he sat staring at the remains of the plant, he even felt sorrow for it because it had lived for such a short period of time. He was concerned mainly about his comfort, but besides that he regretted to see the beautiful plant die. He didn't know that God had purposely caused a large, voracious worm to consume the vine's roots.
A hot wind came up from the east to add to the prophet's distress. That and his gnawing resentment were too much for him. He fell into a state of unconsciousness. When he regained his senses he was even more miserable than he had been before. He desperately wished (for the third time) that his life would come to an abrupt and merciful end. That was when the voice came again to him.
Jonah Learns His Lesson
"Do you feel that you have good reason to be troubled because of the gourd plant?" the voice asked.
"I have plenty of reasons to be troubled," Jonah answered. "I'll be troubled until the day I die, and I hope it's soon!" (Jonah 4:7-9.)
"You had nothing to do with causing the plant to grow," the voice said, "but you had a feeling of sorrow for it because its life was so brief. You believe that I was unmerciful in allowing the plant to die so soon. If I should have spared that plant, shouldn't I also have spared the great city of Nineveh, with its thousands upon thousands of men, women, innocent children and helpless animals?" (Jonah 4:10-11.)
There is no record in the Scriptures of what happened next to Jonah. There is strong evidence that a monument uncovered in the ruins of Nineveh in recent years had been built to honor this prophet. Evidently he turned out to be a national hero or at least an object of great respect by the Assyrians of that time.
Eventually, in later years, as Jonah feared and as God indicated would happen, the Assyrians did come against Israel because the Israelites wouldn't turn from idolatry. That invasion meant the end, for many centuries, to the combined nationality of ten tribes of Israel, most of the people God had chosen for a profound purpose in this world and the world to come. (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18-19; I Peter 2:9.)
Results of Justice
During the reign of Jeroboam, king of the ten northern tribes of Israel, the son of Amaziah began to rule the kingdom of Judah. His name was Uzziah, also known as Azariah. (II Kings 14:16-21; II Chronicles 26:1.) He was only sixteen years old when he became king, but because he looked to God for direction, through Zechariah the prophet, he developed into a wise, courageous ruler whose ambition was to strengthen his kingdom and improve the welfare of the people.
God prospered Uzziah and gave him success in battle. Even with his relatively small army the king overcame the Philistines, who had been a growing threat to Judah since the invasion of the ten tribes of Israel. The fortifications of Philistia's major cities were destroyed, including those of Gath, Ashdod and Jabneh. Uzziah's men then built towns near those cities, so that the Philistines could be kept under control through garrisons established in the new towns.
Before long the king's army had grown to 307,500 stalwart, well-trained, splendidly equipped troops under the command of 2,600 able clan chiefs. (II Chronicles 26:11-15.)
To prevent trouble from the south, Uzziah's growing army swept over territory as far as the border of Egypt, depriving hostile Arabians of the means of making serious attacks on the towns of Judah bordering the desert of the Sinai peninsula.
Many miles to the southeast, at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea, Uzziah's men took over the seaport town of Elath, which had formerly belonged to Judah. The port was rebuilt and equipped for a continuance of the sea commerce Solomon had started from that gulf on the east side of the Sinai peninsula. (II Chronicles 26:2-7; II Kings 14:22.)
Moving in separate bands spread over wide areas, Uzziah's army marched to the southeast and up around the south end of the Dead Sea. There was little resistance until reaching the country of the Ammonites, who met the invaders and were defeated. Instead of destroying his victims, Uzziah demanded that they bring a regular tribute to Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 26:8.)
Convinced that his nation was at least temporarily safe from attack from three directions, Uzziah set about improving conditions for raising sheep and cattle. Large flocks and herds were raised on the plains bordering the Paran desert in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula. In this lonely region shepherds and herdsmen had often lost their lives and their animals in surprise attacks by Arabians. To prevent this fortifications were established at various places throughout the grazing frontier. These included high towers from which watchmen could see for miles over the plains and spot approaching marauders in time to prepare for defense. Wells were dug as close as possible to the fortified shelters and towers, so that men and animals wouldn't have to move long distances for water, previously available at considerably fewer locations.
Wells were also dug in areas where farming could be developed and expanded. Although he had made war and defense first in the order of things, Uzziah was far more interested in agriculture. He felt that everything possible should be done to balance agriculture and to get the most good out of the soil of all regions -- mountains, valleys and plains. (II Chronicles 26:10.)
Having established strong projects of food production and commerce, the king of Judah turned his attention to repairing the aging walls of Jerusalem. Towers were built at various locations along the walls. Special movable platforms were constructed on the wall tops for the placement of extraordinary defense machines, some to shoot clusters of giant arrows and others to hurl heavy stones with tremendous force.
Such outstanding devices, never known before, were invented and built by men who were very skillful, ingenious mechanics. These unusual engines of war, generally powered by the sudden release of tension in cables and springy planks, were objects of wonder to all who saw them or heard of them. (II Chronicles 26:9, 15.)
Luxury Breeds Conceit
Over the years Uzziah became powerful, prosperous and quite respected because he had honored and obeyed God. Unhappily, there came a time when he began to think of himself as a very special person. In spite of the wisdom he had used for so long, good judgment began to fade the more he thought of himself as greatly superior to other men.
One day when there were special services at the temple and many worshippers were present, Uzziah decided that the congregation would take more interest in the ceremonies if he were to take over some of the functions of the priests. After making a dramatic entrance up the steps to the temple, he turned to the crowd.
"Inasmuch as this is a special day, your king will assume the responsibility of burning incense on the incense altar," he announced.
There was a murmur of approval from those in the audience who weren't aware that only a priest was to burn incense at the temple. (Exodus 30:7-8; Numbers 16:1-40; 18:1-7.) Those who were aware of it only stared and probably thought that Uzziah had made some special arrangement with Azariah the high priest. But Azariah, standing off to one side, was surprised by the king's words. His surprise gave way to grave concern as Uzziah strode into the temple and toward the sanctuary.
"He must be stopped!" Azariah exclaimed in a low voice to one of his assistants. "Bring all the priests to me at the entrance of the sanctuary immediately!"
Moments later the priests gathered around Azariah, who hastily walked into the sanctuary with his men.
"Leave this room at once!" the high priest firmly called out to the king, who was standing by the incense altar.
Uzziah, holding a smoking censer, slowly turned and glared at Azariah.
"The king of Judah does not jump at the command of a priest!" he muttered angrily.
"Then I beg you to leave here before God shows His displeasure!" the high priest implored Uzziah. (II Chronicles 26:16-18.)
Bible Story Book Index
Israel Goes To War With The Jews
UZZIAH, KING OF JUDAH, changed by his growing attitude of self-importance, unwisely started to take over a priestly function at the temple. (II Chronicles 26:1-16.) Warned by Azariah the high priest that the king would displease God by this act, Uzziah was so angered that he was hardly aware of a sudden quivering in the floor.
A King Not Above God
"It would take more than all of you to get me out of here before I choose to leave!" Uzziah snapped. "And why should God be displeased with me?"
"None but a son of Aaron the Levite should burn incense in this sanctuary," Azariah pointed out. "You will surely bring down the wrath of God for disobeying His laws!" (II Chronicles 26:17-18.)
The priests, moving toward Uzziah, nodded in assent. This made the angry king even more upset.
Undaunted by a king, the priests continued approaching Uzziah, who indignantly held his ground. Just as the priests were about to reach him, they halted. Their expressions of determination turned to those of surprise and dread as they peered intently at him.
"A white spot has just appeared on your forehead," Azariah informed the king. "I think it's leprosy!"
Although Uzziah instantly considered the high priest's remark a trick, his free hand went to his forehead. The censer he was holding crashed to the floor. He was horrified to feel an area of soft, puffy, moist skin above his eyes. It was like pressing his fingers into something dead, cold and mushy.
"Get him out of here before something worse happens!" Azariah instructed the priests.
The foremost men seized the king and whisked him toward the door, but Uzziah was so anxious to get out of the sanctuary that he broke away from them and raced ahead. The congregation outside was amazed and bewildered to see the king rush out of the temple in such an undignified manner, and dart out of sight into a group of aides and attendants. (II Chronicles 26:19-20.)
Azariah and his priests emerged just as another rumble, this time very strong, came from the quaking ground. The earth shook violently and the temple trembled. Screams of fear went up from the congregation, which fled away. (Zechariah 14:5; Amos 1:1.) This earthquake, one of the most severe in history, was a token of God's anger because of what Uzziah had done. It did great damage to the earth's surface for many miles around, but God didn't allow a vast destruction of cities and lives because of what happened at the temple. Nevertheless, thousands of people had to race for their lives when huge fissures cracked open in the ground. The Bible compares the earthquake to a terrifying one that will occur when Christ returns to the earth only a few years from the time this present-day account is written. (Zechariah 14:4; Matthew 24:29.)
Uzziah, also called Azariah, remained leprous until his death several years later at the age of sixty-eight. (II Kings 15:1-7.) Until then, because of his contagious disease, he had to live apart from others except devoted servants who chose to stay with him. Even under these conditions he continued to be regarded as the ruler of Judah, although others, including his young son Jotham, performed most of the regal functions.
Having died a leper, Uzziah wasn't entombed in a royal sepulchre, but was buried in a field near the regal tombs.
Unlike some other kings of Judah who had followed God and had later fallen into idolatry, Uzziah worshipped only the one true God all his life. His deplorable downfall came from believing that he was above the Law and that he was too great a man to have to observe certain special rules God had established for deportment at the temple. (II Chronicles 26:21-23.)
Meanwhile, in Israel
For six months, during Judah's prosperity under Uzziah, Jeroboam's son Zachariah ruled the ten tribes, called the House of Israel. He continued the idol-worship his father had followed. He was so indifferent to the welfare of the people that he was very unpopular with them. He was murdered before a public gathering by a man of high rank named Shallum, who had already persuaded high officials and the guard to support him. No one tried to arrest Shallum for this brazen act. He made himself king immediately. (II Kings 15:8-12.)
Zachariah's death ended the reign of the descendants of Jehu, king of Israel over a hundred years previously. God told Jehu that because he had been obedient in destroying the family of disobedient Ahab, his descendants for four generations would rule Israel. (II Kings 9:1-10; II Kings 10:30-31.) Zachariah was of the fourth and last generation. More generations from Jehu probably would have reigned if Jehu hadn't allowed the customs of Jeroboam I to remain the established religion.
Menahem, commander of the army of Israel, had started out to the northeast to recapture towns and cities taken by the Syrians. When he heard that Shallum had become king by doing away with Zachariah, he was so angry and envious that he returned to Samaria and put an end to Shallum after that king had been in power only a month. (II Kings 15:13-15.)
Menahem proclaimed himself ruler, then set out again on his military mission. He went back to Tirzah, a former capital of northern Israel and the city he had been besieging when he returned to Samaria. Menahem took over Tirzah and other cities to the northeast. His goal was the strongly fortified city of Tiphsah on the Euphrates river. He reasoned that capturing it would be necessary for a stronghold against westward military movements by Assyria. Besides, it would be an important garrison against Syria.
When Menahem arrived at Tiphsah, he didn't surprise the inhabitants, who had been informed of the Israelites' approach hours before. The Israelite army commander demanded that heavy barricading be removed and the gates opened. He promised that he would spare the inhabitants if they would surrender, but that any who resisted would die.
Menahem Grasps Another City
Before long Menahem found that he wasn't yet in a position to make demands or carry out threats. The people of Tiphsah stubbornly refused to do anything except wait. As the hours passed the commander grew furiously impatient.
"These stupid foreigners are asking to starve or die of thirst through a siege!" Menahem stormed. "I don't have time for a siege, but I'm not leaving here until I take this city!"
Menahem's angry determination cost him many men in his wild attack on Tiphsah. There were repeated attempts to scale the walls, timed with the efforts of archers who shot their arrows from fatally short distances. Finally, after what appeared to be a fruitless struggle, a contingent of Israelites managed to get over the walls, push back the defenders, pull down the barricades and open the gates to allow the rest of the Israelite army to pour into the city.
"Make the infidels pay for our losses!" Menahem ordered his officers. "Slaughter those who hide as well as those who resist! And do away with every pregnant woman you can find!"
The king's commands were carried out. Many were slain, and Tiphsah fell to Israel. This was an example of the violence and cruelty that characterized Menahem's rule during the next ten years. Besides being murderously vengeful, the king maliciously insisted on the worship of idols, even though he had a knowledge of God. (II Kings 15:16-18.)
One day Menahem received a report that an army from distant Assyria had crossed the Jordan river and was marching toward Samaria. Within hours the bristling, excited king was leading his army eastward to meet the invaders. When they came within view and he saw that their numbers extended for miles across the plain, his liking for war suddenly deserted him.
The king of Israel hastily arranged for a party of his officers to go ahead with a flag of truce to meet the Assyrians while he and his troops waited at a distance. This resulted, a little later, in his being invited by Pul, the Assyrian king, to ride forward for an exchange of words.
"I am surprised that a military man of your hostile reputation would come to meet me in peace," Pul commented dryly, critically eyeing the other ruler.
"If you come in peace, I welcome you in peace," Menahem replied.
"Peace between Assyria and Israel depends on what you do to make amends for what you did to Tiphsah," Pul bluntly stated. "Many of the murdered inhabitants were my people!"
The usually barbarous and unfriendly Menahem struggled to conceal his sudden fear and maintain diplomatic composure.
"Such a grave matter shouldn't be discussed in the middle of a desert," he observed. "If you will be my guest at my palace in Samaria, we can talk there in comfort."
The Cost of Land-Grabbing
Weeks later, while Pul and his top officers enjoyed themselves in Samaria and the nearby Assyrian army occasionally feasted on special food supplied by the Israelites, the two kings came to an agreement.
Meanwhile, the distraught Menahem, gambling on the hope that Pul could be appeased by a sum of money, decreed that those who were prosperous among the Israelites should pay a special tax. In spite of the sins of Israel, about 60,000 families still enjoyed God's blessing of prosperity. Through the hurried efforts of collectors, the tax money poured in. Equal to about two million dollars, it was promptly turned over to the king of Assyria, who took his army back to his home nation. He saw no reason to lose any of his soldiers against the Israelites if their king chose to buy his way out of a war. (II Kings 15:19-20.)
There were Israelites who were highly critical of Menahem for taxing the people to escape trouble, but if the king had chosen to stand against the invaders, Israel probably would have been defeated. It was a matter of disaster being postponed to the time God had picked to bring the Assyrians again to Samaria.
Menahem died shortly after this event. He was succeeded by his son Pekahiah, who continued in the idolatry of his forebears. His rule was cut short, after only two years, when one of his captains burst into his palace, along with fifty men, and assassinated Pekahiah.
This captain, Pekah, whose name was much like that of his victim, seized the throne to hold control of the ten tribes of Israel for the next twenty years, during which he carried on in the idolatry of the rulers who had preceded him. (II Kings 15:21-28.)
But while the Israelites were having all this trouble, the Jews fared much better because they had better leaders.
In the second year of Pekah's reign over Israel in Samaria, Uzziah's son Jotham, twenty-five years of age, came into full rulership of Judah. Happily for his kingdom, he lived and ruled by God's laws during his sixteen years as king. Although he worked to clean out idolatry from Judah, it was so deeply ingrained in many of the people that he never succeeded in removing it. (II Kings 15:32-35; II Chronicles 27:1.)
Jotham remembered his father's lesson and didn't go into the temple. Like Uzziah in his better years, Jotham built fortifications and observation towers in places where they were needed. He continued to improve Jerusalem's walls, as well as part of the temple. His ambition was to maintain and improve the projects his father had started.
Because of his loyalty to God, most of the years of Jotham's reign weren't marred by war. The king's first battle was with the Ammonites, whom the army of Judah defeated. As vassals, the Ammonites paid tribute in silver equal to about $200,000 as well as over 90,000 bushels of wheat and the same amount of barley.
For three years they made the same payment to Judah. (II Chronicles 27:2-6.) After that they rebelled against bringing it. Jotham was so engrossed in a more serious matter that he didn't have time to send an army to demand the tribute. The army of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, was overrunning much of the territory of the kingdom of Israel. This was no small concern to Jotham, who any day expected to learn that the Assyrians were heading toward Judah, also.
The Assyrian Threat
The unwelcome report eventually came. Jotham's soldiers prepared to defend Jerusalem. The war machines built in Uzziah's time were set for action. What was more important, Jotham asked God to spare his nation from the Assyrians.
According to ancient Assyrian records, the invaders went almost to the northeastern border of Egypt, by-passing the towns and cities of Judah and Philistia. They returned, but the only places they spoiled were in the territory of the ten tribes of Israel. Jotham's prayers had been answered. The Jews were spared, but so were the Philistines. God possibly spared the Philistines so that they could be used to trouble Judah during the reign of the next evil king.
The Assyrians finally left Israel, but not without taking thousands of Israelites as captives and leaving Pekah with only half his territory. All the land east of the Jordan river was taken, never to be regained by any king of Israel. The Assyrians also took over many of the towns and cities of Syria. (II Kings 15:29; I Chronicles 5:25-26.) Thus Assyria became the common enemy of Israel and Syria; and Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of Israel, became allies in a plan to regain the wealth and strength they needed.
Israel Plots with Syria to Fight the Jews
That plan was to capture Judah's capital, Jerusalem. If that could be done, all of Judah could be theirs. But both Israel and Syria had become so weakened in manpower that the forces they sent against Judah were not strong enough to make inroads. (II Kings 15:37.) Even if the armies had been twice as large, they wouldn't have succeeded until the time God chose to allow them to succeed.
Jotham died at the relatively young age of forty-one to leave the leadership of the nation of Judah to his son Ahaz, twenty years old. (II Kings 15:38; II Chronicles 27:6-9.) From then on conditions grew worse in Judah. Ahaz, following the bad example of all the kings of Israel, believed that it was foolish to worship a God he couldn't see. He chose to worship objects that were visible, no matter how lifeless. He saw to it that images of Baal were produced and made available to his subjects to worship. He was a base example to his people by putting his children through fiery rites associated with heathen gods. (II Kings 16:1-4; II Chronicles 28:1-4.)
The armies of Israel and Syria again came against Judah, this time to successfully converge on Jerusalem. But the high, thick walls and unusual protective devices were too much for the attackers. (II Kings 16:5.)
The soldiers of Israel returned to Samaria. The Syrian forces moved southward to the northeastern tip of the Red Sea, where they drove out the Jews and captured the port of Elath, which until then belonged to Judah. This is the first time the people of Judah are called Jews in the Bible. (II Kings 16:6.)
The departure of the Syrians and Pekah's army didn't mean the end of trouble for Ahaz. The Philistines had learned that the army of Judah had been weakened by recent attacks. Their army moved eastward to capture towns and villages in southwestern Judah. About the same time the Edomites invaded Judah from the southeast by bands of mounted soldiers who captured and carried away people from the small towns. (II Chronicles 28:17-19.)
This was frustrating to Ahaz, whose army couldn't be everywhere at once. He didn't want to break it up into too many parts, lest there be another siege of Jerusalem. He needed help. The only possible source was from distant Assyria, whose king had no friendly attitude toward Syria. Ahaz sent messengers to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, to ask for military aid to ward off the Jews' enemies, the Syrians, Israelites, Philistines and Edomites. As payment for the help he hoped to receive, Ahaz stripped the temple of most of its gold and silver and special treasures and sent them to the king of Assyria. For good measure Ahaz added some of the valuable objects from his palace. (II Kings 16:7-8; II Chronicles 28:20-25.)
The next few days were difficult and trying ones for the king of Judah. He was filled with anxiety over what the Assyrian king would choose to do. If he made the decision to help Judah, Ahaz desperately hoped that the help would come before the Israelites decided to return and attack again.
Finally a special messenger came to speak to the king, who impatiently demanded to know what the king of Assyria had to tell him.
"But I am not from Assyria," the messenger said. "I've come from southern Judah to report that the Syrian army is approaching from Elath!"
Bible Story Book Index
Judah Is Strong, Israel Is Weak
HAVING sent to the king of Assyria for help against his enemies, Ahaz the king of Judah expected to learn that troops were coming from the north to assist him. (II Kings 16:7-8.) Instead, a messenger brought a discouraging report that the army of Syria was approaching Jerusalem from the south.
A Hired Friend
Again the best warriors of Judah readied themselves to defend their capital. But Rezin, the Syrian king, had no intention of repeating a futile attack against such strong fortifications. His army moved safely on past Jerusalem, then struck some nearby towns. By the time troops could spill out of Jerusalem and start pursuing the attackers, the Syrians were well on their way north with thousands of captives and loot, leaving the towns in ruins.
The soldiers of Judah were too late to overtake the attackers, who returned victoriously to Damascus, the Syrian capital, where their captives became slaves. (II Chronicles 28:1-5.) Even this tragedy for Judah failed to move Ahaz to turn from idolatry. But just when he was most discouraged and fearful, he received the exciting report that the Assyrians had attacked and captured Damascus, and that Rezin, king of the Syrians, had been killed (II Kings 16:9.)
Ahaz was jubilant. He was convinced that his costly gifts to Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian king, had proved to be a worthwhile bribe. He planned an immediate trip to Damascus, which was occupied by the Assyrian king. Ahaz hoped to talk Tiglath-pileser into moving westward and besieging Samaria.
The king of Judah went to Damascus and talked with the Assyrian king, who had made his own plans and was indifferent to those of Ahaz. He made it plain that he had already carried out any obligation having to do with gifts Ahaz had given him.
Ahaz returned to Jerusalem with the bleak outlook of having to deal with several enemies, particularly that of King Pekah of Israel, without the aid of a strong ally. He needed help desperately, but he preferred not to look to God for it. Instead he foolishly reasoned that the pagan Syrian gods disliked him and so had given the Syrians victory over Judah. He decided to sacrifice to the Syrian gods in an effort to appease them and win them over to helping him. (II Chronicles 28:23.)
Ahaz was so obsessed with this ridiculous idea that before he left Damascus he sent orders to Urijah, high priest at the temple at Jerusalem, to build an altar like one he had seen in Damascus and to set it in front of God's altar toward the temple gate. Messengers brought drawn plans for the altar to Urijah. Although Urijah was a high-ranking servant of God, he gave orders that the altar should be constructed and should replace the sacred one that had long been in use. (II Kings 16:10.)
Urijah feared that Ahaz would demand his life if he failed to do this abominable thing that was contrary to God's commands. (Exodus 20:2225; 25:40; 26:30; 27:1-8; 38:1-7.) Obviously the high priest wasn't dedicated to the duty of his high office. Otherwise, he would have refused to build the pagan altar, and would have relied on God for safety. It had always been common knowledge among the Israelites that they should not make sacrifices on any altar other than God's altar, even if it were made after the same pattern. (Joshua 22:11-30.)
As soon as Ahaz returned to Jerusalem, one of the first things he did was to go to the temple and look at the new altar. Satisfied that it was like the Syrian altar he had seen, he proceeded to use it for the first time by making sacrifices to Syrian gods. This, in front of the temple, was an act of contempt for God. (II Kings 16:11-13.)
Israel and Judah at War
There followed other brazen deeds by Ahaz. He gave orders to the high priest that the main objects that had to do with ceremonial worship of God should be moved to different locations around the temple area. (II Kings 16:14.) This was contrary to the way God had established their positions. (Exodus 40:6-7.) Most of the remaining gold or silver articles and furnishings both inside and outside the temple were removed and melted down for reuse due to their metallic value. In spite of this desecration, faithful followers of God still came in dwindling numbers to worship at the temple. Ahaz put a stop to that by closing the temple and forbidding any sacrificing except to pagan gods. (II Kings 16:15-18; II Chronicles 28:24.)
This was a tragic time in the history of man. God's patience, much greater than that of the most enduring human being, was tried to an extreme. To add to what he had done at the temple, the king of Judah decreed that altars should be constructed in the major cities and towns of the land to establish national worship of Syrian gods. (II Chronicles 28:25.)
Ahaz hoped that these pagan idols would be so pleased by another nation turning to them that they would not only protect Judah from surrounding enemies, but would somehow release Ahaz from having to pay regular tribute to Assyria, something Tiglath-pileser had demanded of Ahaz when the king of Judah was in Damascus. He was anxious not to let his subjects learn that the kingdom had fallen into such serious debt to the nation he had hoped would remain an ally.
Growing idolatry in Judah might not have been quite so abominable in God's sight if Ahaz and the people had never known of the only real God. With most of them it was a matter of choosing between their Creator and lifeless idols. This wasn't much of a compliment to the One who had given them life. As Ahaz constantly feared would happen, the report finally came that King Pekah of Israel and his army had left Samaria and were headed southward. Ahaz had to decide whether to keep the army in Jerusalem and risk attacks on other towns in Judah, or send his troops out to meet Pekah's. He decided to meet the enemy, just as the angry God of Israel intended.
On a plain north of Jerusalem the two armies of Israel and Judah came against each other in tragic strife, inasmuch as the participants came from all twelve tribes of the whole of Israel. Some of the first men to be slain were of high rank in the government of Judah, including the prime minister, the governor of the royal palace and an officer who was a close relative of Ahaz. The quick loss of men like these threw fear into the foremost ranks of the soldiers of Judah. That fear was obvious to Pekah's troops, who waded in among them with growing fervor and ferocity.
All day long the sound and fury of bloody battle continued. By nightfall one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers of Judah were dead on the wide field of fighting. (II Chronicles 28:5-7.)
Most of what was left of the army of Judah fled back to Jerusalem, leaving Pekah's victorious troops to plunder nearby towns and capture the inhabitants. When the pillagers left for Samaria, they took with them two hundred thousand men, women and children, as well as a huge amount of loot.
Israel Relents -- Somewhat
Herded along by its captors, this great crowd was almost within sight of Samaria when a group of prominent men of Israel met the returning army. The group's spokesman was a prophet named Oded, who addressed the top officers of the soldiers of Israel.
"Who are these people with you?" the prophet asked. "They are captives we took in Judah," the army commander replied proudly. "Probably you already heard that we all but destroyed the army of Ahaz. Then we captured these people to become servants in our nation."
"This is against God's will," Oded firmly stated after glancing over the foremost of the miserable captives. "You didn't win a victory over Judah because you were more righteous or more battle-wise. God gave you the ability to defeat Judah in war to punish them for their sins. But capturing these people was a cruel and unnecessary deed. They are our brothers and sisters because of our common ancestors who came out of Egypt. To regard them as servants is wrong. If you keep them in bondage, God's wrath will come on Samaria. The sins of Israel are already too great and too many to have this thing added." (II Chronicles 28:8-11.)
"Then what do you suggest we do with these prisoners?" the commander asked in an irritable tone.
"Release them so that they can return to Judah," was Oded's simple answer.
"Let them go after all the trouble we've taken to get them here?" the commander sputtered angrily. "Do you actually think that just because you are a prophet anyone is going to take you seriously in this matter?"
By now a growing crowd from Samaria had come up behind the leaders of Israel, who drew closer around Oded and the army officers.
"All of us here agree with Oded," one of the leaders answered the startled commander. "We of Israel have done many things to anger God. If we take these people as servants, who knows what punishment will come to us? Do not move them one step farther into Israel! And don't take for yourselves any of the booty you forced them to carry with them!"
The officers stared at those around them. The commander wasn't accustomed to being told by a civilian what to do, but not knowing how the king stood on the matter, he hesitated to take a stand against Oded and these men of high position. After a few moments of glaring at his opposers, he barked a command to his officers and aides and strode angrily away. The crowd from Samaria watched in silence as the army of Israel solemnly filed by on its way to the capital. (II Chronicles 28:12-14.)
Aided by the crowd that had joined them, the leaders of Israel started the task of taking stock of the loot from Judah. >From it they obtained clothing and shoes for that part of the captives who had been seized at night while in bed, and had been given no time to properly dress.
From the food taken from Judah the captives were given a meal that was long overdue. Then they were accompanied back toward Judah as far as the city of Jericho, which had been built on a different site from the Jericho that had been destroyed. Donkeys carried the elderly people and cripples, who had suffered from being forced to march toward Samaria.
From Jericho it was only a few miles to the various towns of northern Judah from which the people had been taken. Having delivered them to their country, the men of Israel returned to Samaria and their hometowns to the north, hopeful that God would be merciful to the ten tribes because of what had been done for the captives from Judah. (II Chronicles 28:15.)
Ahaz, brooding over the defeat of his army by that of northern Israel, was relieved to learn that his captured people had been returned. But instead of thanking God, who had made it possible through His followers in Israel, he continued in idolatry throughout the remaining years of his life. He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the royal tombs of the kings of Judah. Obviously God decided which kings, because of their obedience to Him, should be buried in the royal sepulchers, and caused those who had charge of the burials to make the proper decisions. (II Chronicles 28:26-27.)
Years before the death of Ahaz, King Pekah of Israel was murdered according to the plan of a man named Hoshea, who had schemed to do away with Pekah so that he could become ruler. (II Kings 15:30; 17:1.) Civil war followed. Hoshea had to ask the Assyrians for help to restore him to the throne.
Hoshea followed in the evil ways of the preceding kings, but not with the idolatrous fervor most of the others had practiced.
During his reign the Assyrians, led by King Shalmaneser, again came to Samaria. Hoshea didn't have the military strength to resist tribute. He submitted to Shalmaneser and gave him costly gifts and the promise of regular tribute and even allegiance. (II Kings 17:2-3.)
Satisfied with how matters had turned out, the Assyrians went on to further conquests, leaving Hoshea as little more than a puppet king whose conduct would have to favor Assyrian interests if Hoshea wanted to retain rulership of the ten tribes of Israel. Hoshea tried to squirm out of his miserable situation by seeking a strong ally. He sent messengers to the king of Egypt, who was a powerful ruler at that time, to suggest that both nations should unite against Assyria to prevent the invader out of the north from taking them over one by one.
The king of Egypt took measures for the defense of his nation, but did little to help Israel. Hoshea, meanwhile, was so certain that Egypt would unite with his nation against Assyria that he refused to pay the regular tribute. At the same time, someone in Hoshea's employ sold information to the king of Assyria that Hoshea was planning an alliance with Egypt. Shalmaneser was angered to learn that the ruler of Israel would dare scheme against him. He immediately sent a small part of his army to Samaria, where Hoshea was questioned by Assyrian officers.
"Why haven't we received the regular tribute?" they asked. The Result of Godlessness
"If you didn't receive it, those who took it to Assyria must have been robbed and killed," Hoshea untruthfully stated. "I have been meaning to contact your king to ask if they stayed in Assyria after delivering their valuable cargo."
"Why do you waste words?" one of the officers asked. "We have sources of information right here in Samaria. We know that the tribute wasn't sent."
"You question the word of the king of Israel?" Hoshea indignantly sputtered.
"We do," the officer replied. "And we know that you are guilty of conspiring with King So of Egypt against Assyria!"
Hoshea's forced indignant expression faded to one of genuine panic as Assyrian soldiers closed in on him. The royal guard was powerless to help because it had been outnumbered and removed by the Assyrians. The Israelite soldiers realized that any opposition to their enemies would bring the entire Assyrian army down on Samaria.
"You are under arrest for plotting against King Shalmaneser!" the ashen-faced Hoshea was told.
Stunned beyond argument or resistance, Hoshea quietly went with his captors, who took him to his own dungeon in Samaria and clapped him in chains. He was released after the delayed tribute was paid, plus a heavy bail. This happened in the sixth year of Hoshea's reign, which continued for three more years. (II Kings 17:4.)
The Bible doesn't mention Hoshea much after that. Whatever his final fate, the fate of his kingdom, comprised of the ten tribes of Israel, was worse. Shortly after Hoshea was imprisoned, Shalmaneser again came westward with his entire army to overrun parts of Syria and Israel. (II Kings 18:9.) His goal was Samaria, which he surrounded by thousands of his troops. The outnumbered army of Israel, mostly bottled up in the capital, dared not come out to attack. As long as the invaders stayed, the people in the capital remained prisoners. Meanwhile, Samaria's walls proved to be so strong and well manned that the Assyrians had to be content with waiting till the besieged Israelites would become so short of food and water that they had to surrender.
A week passed, but there was no sign of distress from Samaria. Then a month passed. Two months went by. Then a third. Shalmaneser had come west prepared for several weeks of stay in Israel, but now his food was running low and water was a problem. It had to be hauled from towns near Samaria to the Assyrian camps that had been set up around the capital. To increase the food supply, Assyrian troops combed the nearby territory and towns to take their needs.
The weeks went on, but there was no sign of weakening from Samaria. From time to time the Assyrians attacked the city, but always were driven back by showers of arrows, spears and stones. This didn't greatly discourage Shalmaneser, who believed that each time was the final effort of the Israelites to defend Samaria before hunger and thirst forced a surrender. But the city was so well supplied that the siege dragged on for two years!
Bible Story Book Index
Israel Conquered, Judah Spared
AFTER beginning the siege of Samaria, King Shalmaneser of Assyria returned to his country, leaving only part of his army to continue to bottle up the soldiers and civilians in the capital of the ten tribes of Israel.
The Israelites were discouraged when they saw that enough of the Assyrian army had been left behind to surround the city, but they had hopes of overcoming the lesser numbers of Assyrians and breaking the siege. (II Kings 17:1-5; 18:9.)
Samaria Under Siege
This they tried to do by withdrawing the guards from the walls for a few days, so that it would appear that they no longer had the strength to carry on. This, plus the fact that no smoke was coming up from the city, caused the hopeful enemy troops to cautiously close in at night toward the walls with the intention of battering in the gates or scaling the walls with hooks and ropes. Unhampered, they eagerly set to work, but only minutes afterward all sorts of deadly objects descended on them. There was a noisy, mad scramble to get away from the wall and the Israelite soldiers who had suddenly appeared atop it.
If the Israelites could have repeated this strategy, in which more than a few Assyrians lost their lives, Samaria might have been freed. But the Assyrians weren't to be fooled again in that manner. There was no other possible way for the Israelites to exhaust their enemies except to go out and meet them in battle. Plans were made for that, but the Israelites postponed this last measure too long. The main part of the Assyrian army suddenly returned. The approaching thousands spread out around Samaria, causing all hope to be lost by the Israelites.
The Israelites kept on holding out week after week. Finally Assyrian patience came to an end. The Assyrian kings were ambitious men, and they didn't intend for the army of Assyria to be tied up any longer in the siege. They ordered an assault on the main gates of Samaria, using only a small number of soldiers at a time to man a battering ram.
There was opposition from the wall, but as fast as the Assyrians carrying the ram were cut down, others raced in to replace them. At the same time Assyrian archers kept rushing up to send volleys of arrows up to the top of the wall.
This continued for hours. Many men on both sides lost their lives while the gates were being pounded to splinters. Behind the gates were stone blocks. More men died as the stones were laboriously removed. The soldiers of both nations met in hand-to-hand combat. Weakened by lack of food, the Israelite troops were no match for the greater number of Assyrians, who poured inside the city and had civilians and soldiers under their control within a short time.
The Almost-Lost Ten Tribes
The occupants of Samaria expected to be slaughtered, and many were, as God had warned. (Hosea 13:16.) But total annihilation wasn't according to the Assyrians' plan, which had to do with the value of slaves. The Israelites were rounded up like so many cattle, along with others from other towns and villages of the ten tribes, and forced to march to Assyria with the victors. (II Kings 17:6; 18:11.) Later, Assyrians returned to herd more thousands of Israelites, scattered throughout the countryside, out of their land.
Thus, two hundred fifty-three years after the twelve tribes had divided into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the kingdom of Israel abruptly ceased to exist. The people had again and again rejected God's rules for the best way of living and had turned to idolatry. (Judges 2:11-13; Psalms 106:34-41; 78:56-66.) God had repeatedly warned them, through priests and prophets, what would happen if they continued in idolatry. (II Kings 17:7-13; Jeremiah 7:24-26.) But most of the Israelites wouldn't heed. (Daniel 9:6.)
Now, at last, the Israelites were dragged away from their homes and into slavery in foreign lands even beyond Assyria. (II Kings 17:18, 20-23; 18:11-12.) God had long been patient. (Psalms 78:25-41; 86:15.) But at last His patience gave way to anger because this part of the people He had chosen to be the greatest of nations had broken their promise to the Creator to keep His Commandments. (Exodus 19:6; 24:7; Joshua 24:2022; II Kings 17:14-17.)
Scattered across hundreds of miles of territory and mingling with people of heathen nations, and later wandering through many lands, the people of Israel eventually lost their identity as Israelites and Sabbath observers, and in time came to be regarded by others as Gentiles. What had once been a great nation was swallowed up, to be known for a very long time only as the "Lost Ten Tribes."
Hundreds of years previously, after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, God promised them that if they would worship only the Creator and observe all His laws, they would receive all the promises made to Abraham because of his obedience, and would become the most prosperous and powerful of nations. (Leviticus 26:1-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Jeremiah 7:22-23.) At the same time God warned them that if they rebelled, they would fall into slavery to their enemies, and would remain a scattered, landless people for a period of seven prophetic times (Leviticus 26:14-35; Deuteronomy 28:15-29; Joshua 24:13-20.)
A time in this case was a year of twelve thirty-day months. Seven times, or 2,520 days, was equal to 2,520 prophetic years -- a day for a year. (Numbers 14:34.) So 2,520 years passed after Israel was taken captive in 721-718 B.C., before the Israelites regained their freedom and wealth. By then, in A.D. 1800-1803, they had completely lost their identity. They had migrated or had been taken to distant islands and continents. Most of them became the inhabitants of the United States and Great Britain, and didn't realize that they were largely descendants of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim.
Some peoples in various regions of the British Isles, however, still regarded themselves as Israelites until recent centuries. And some groups of people brought that knowledge to America with them. Even now, however, close to the year A.D. 2000, relatively few Britons and Americans realize that they are descendants of the ancient, ten-tribed House of Israel, whom they think of only as Jews.
The Jews were only of the House of Judah, and not nationally of the House of Israel, although racially they are Israelites in the sense that they were once a part of ancient Israel before the twelve tribes split into two kingdoms. In the same sense many Americans speak of themselves racially as being Irish, Scottish, English, or German, not knowing their ancestry. As for the people of the kingdom of Israel, they are erroneously regarded as Gentiles, inasmuch as most people think of Earth's inhabitants as either Jews or Gentiles.
God's promise of prosperity for Israel, headed by Ephraim and Manasseh, was made to Abraham because of his obedience. (Genesis 26:1-5.) The fulfillment of that promise ceased when Israel was taken captive and wasn't again carried out until Israel's period of punishment was ended. It didn't come about because the Israelites were great, or worthy of it, but because God always keeps His promises. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8.)
Modern Israelites, having become rich and powerful nations since A.D. 1800-1803, have attributed their blessings to their own resourcefulness, and even to their being "Christian" nations. Their resources and resourcefulness have come from God especially to carry out His promise. Actually, they are far from being true Christian nations. Wrong use of their wealth and power, because they lack the wisdom and obedience that God wants them to have, is draining them of the very strength that they have been given by their Creator. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 32-33; Jeremiah 10:23-25.)
Israel's Land Desolate
The emptied cities of Israel didn't remain unoccupied long. The kings of Assyria immediately ordered that they should be filled with people from other conquered nations and surrounding vassal territories. (II Kings 17:24.) There were few routes between countries. Therefore it was likely that columns of miserable Israelite prisoners trudged within yards of Assyrian subjects moving in the opposite direction, who probably were not eager to leave their own land and go to the empty homes of the vanquished. If the Israelites learned what was happening, their desire to escape was lessened, inasmuch as there was nothing for them to return to, and the whole region was carefully watched over by well-organized Assyrians.
When the first colonists from other conquered places were moved in, they were dismayed to find that hostile lions were roaming about. Some of the lions even established themselves in empty city buildings. Dislodging them cost a number of lives. The new colonists began to think that some god of that region had sent the beasts to trouble them because they had failed to worship him according to Israelite customs they didn't know about. They believed that there were many gods, most of whom had dominion over certain territories.
Deaths from the lions increased. Finally the new peoples sent messengers to the king at Nineveh to ask that some Israelite priest be returned to his native country to instruct them how to appease the local god, so that he would remove the ferocious animals.
The king of Nineveh agreed, and a priest was sent back to the land of Israel. At Bethel, a city that had been a center of worship, the priest took up residence to start teaching the Assyrians. Although some knowledge of the Creator spread among them in the months to follow, the Assyrians couldn't believe that there was only one God. They still preferred to worship their own gods, accompanying it with a limited deference or acknowledgment and lip service to the God of Israel, hoping that their occasional sacrifices and prayers would earn them protection from the lions. (II Kings 17:25-41.)
Eventually most of these beasts were slain or dispersed. By that time the religious practices of many of the inhabitants were deplorable combinations of idol worship and weak observance of a few of God's laws. The pagan part, naturally, was predominant. Although the colonist who was afraid of the power of God more than his idols wasn't difficult to find, pagan worship was easier and more agreeable to the Assyrian mind, which had been smothered for centuries in looking to animal-type idols for shallow and often wanton religious expression.
Among these idols were those which resembled fish, horses, bulls, eagles, and combinations of animals and men -- a god for every whim. Readers of this story will agree that it was abysmally ignorant of men to look to animal images for supernatural help. But could it be that some readers know people who believe that a rabbit's foot in one's pocket or a horseshoe over a doorway brings "good luck" to the possessors? The sobering fact is that many people still believe that certain lifeless tokens, symbols and images have mysterious powers, and go so far as to kneel and pray to some of those images.
Judah More Obedient Than Israel
Back in the third year of the reign of Hoshea, last of the kings of Israel, a son of evil King Ahaz began to rule Judah. He was Hezekiah, an astute young man of twenty-five years. Strange as it seems, he was much the opposite of his dissolute father. (II Kings 18:1-3; II Chronicles 28:27; 29:1-2.)
One of Hezekiah's first important acts, carried out in the first year of his reign, was to reopen the temple at Jerusalem. It had been closed about sixteen years previously because Ahaz had turned to idolatry and had stripped the temple of its valuables to pay the king of Assyria for help against Judah's enemies.
"God's house must be cleaned up," Hezekiah informed the Levites and priests. "Cleanse yourselves so that you will be fit for this task."
Hezekiah made it known that because of the sins of his father and many others in the nation, Judah had come into years filled with all kinds of trouble. He declared that it was time to turn to God and renew the covenant all of Israel had made with the Creator years before.
"The temple must be ready for use as soon as possible," he continued in his talk to the Levites and priests. "There is much to be done before functions can be reestablished. Cleaning is the first thing. It must be thorough and complete." (II Chronicles 29:3-11.)
This was good news to the priests, who had long been thwarted in their duties because of idolatry in Judah. At last, because of God's working through Hezekiah, the opportunity had come for them to continue the work that had been forced to stop.
Fourteen leaders of the tribe of Levi rounded up the required Levite workers. On the first day of the first month of the year, Nisan, the cleaning of the temple started. Shovels, mops, brooms, scrub brushes, scrapers and tubs of water went into action. While their helpers cleaned other parts of the buildings, the priests scrubbed and polished the sacred inner part of the temple and its furnishings. Rubble, dirt and grimy water were brought out and dumped into Kidron brook, a nearby stream that was swift and strong in the spring. It carried the refuse on to the Dead Sea.
The Temple Rededicated
By the end of the sixteenth day the whole temple had been cleaned. (II Chronicles 29:12-17.) Floors, walls and even ceilings had been scrubbed and mopped. The priests came to Hezekiah to report that the altar had been made like new, and that the vessels that Ahaz had rejected as not being good enough for the king of Assyria had been repaired, and polished, and that the missing equipment had been replaced by substitutes that should at least temporarily suffice. (II Chronicles 29:18-19.)
Hezekiah was pleased at what had been accomplished, although he had strongly hoped that the temple would be ready for use at Passover time, which was to be observed on the fourteenth day of Nisan. It was two days too late to begin at the proper date. Besides, the temple should be rededicated, and not all the priests were fully prepared ceremonially to resume their duties.
Hezekiah didn't waste any time. He wanted to be certain that the temple, the priests and all their helpers would be ready a month later for observance of the Passover. By announcing the date to be the same day of the next month, the king wouldn't be acting contrary to God, who had instructed Moses that the Passover should be observed the fourteenth day of the second month (Iyar) if circumstances made it impossible to observe it in the first month. (Numbers 9:9-12.)
Early next morning Hezekiah informed the leaders in and around Jerusalem that there should be ceremonies that same day to institute the use of the temple and establish again the functions of the priests and their helpers. (II Chronicles 29:20.)
It turned out to be a most eventful day. Many inhabitants of Jerusalem and its environs flocked to the temple. Cattle, sheep and goats were brought for sin offerings to make atonement not only for Judah, but for all Israel. While the sacrifices were being made, the Levites sang songs composed by David, accompanying themselves with trumpets and other kinds of instruments David and the prophets had employed for making music at the house of God.
After making sacrifices and musical praise to the Creator, Hezekiah announced that the priests and their helpers had well demonstrated that they were consecrated to their work. Then he invited the people attending to bring their sacrifices to make thank offerings.
The response was so great that the priests fell behind in dressing the animals. Ordinarily they were to be the only ones to prepare the sacrifices, but in this case they had to call on their helpers for aid. There was a total of seventy bullocks, a hundred rams, two hundred lambs, six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep. (II Chronicles 29:21-36.)
Israel Still Unrepentant
Hezekiah next sent messengers to most cities and towns of Judah and Israel to proclaim that the Passover would soon be observed in the second month at the newly opened temple.
"Return to your God, and He will return to you," the king of Judah wrote on the proclamation. "You who are still free from Assyria should especially thank your Creator at this time of worship. Don't go the way of your fathers and brothers who gave in to idolatry and were left helpless. Yield yourselves to God and escape His anger. If you turn to Him now, He will preserve you from your enemies, sickness and want and will bring your captive brethren back home. Join us at God's house in Jerusalem." (II Chronicles 30:1-10.)
Hezekiah's messengers were careful to avoid the Assyrian soldiers who occupied part of Israel, particularly Samaria. Even many Israelites, mostly of Manasseh, Ephraim and Zebulun, laughed threateningly when they read the message from Judah.
"You have a lot of nerve to come up here and tell us which god to worship!" some of the Israelites scoffed. "Get back inside those walls at Jerusalem while you're able. We and the Assyrian soldiers have only one thing in common. We don't like preachers!"
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A Righteous King
HEZEKIAH'S messengers were sent throughout Israel and Judah to spread the news of the reopening of the temple at Jerusalem. But they were scoffed at and threatened by idol-worshippers, especially in the territories of Manasseh, Ephraim and Zebulun. (II Chronicles 30:1-10.)
Greatest Passover Since Solomon
"Don't try to convince us we should worship someone we can't see!" the messengers were told. "Go back to your temple and prostrate yourselves, or you might find yourselves prostrate here in Israel for reasons you don't like!"
But not all the Israelites laughed at or ridiculed the messengers. Many of Manasseh, Ephraim, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun welcomed the news from Judah. Most of these, among many others, managed to get to Jerusalem before the appointed time. The city swarmed with people eager to observe the Passover.
Filled with zeal, bands of them roamed through streets and buildings, ferreting out hidden altars and pagan images that had been used during the reign of idolatrous Ahaz. The altars were torn down and thrown into the gushing stream called Kidron, to be washed far from Jerusalem by the spring torrent.
The king of Judah was elated at the way the Passover turned out. It proved to be the greatest in attendance, as well as the most joyous, since the time of Solomon! There was only one temporarily adverse note. A few of the people, even including some priests, had failed to properly prepare themselves, ceremonially and mentally, for a fitting observation of the Passover.
When Hezekiah discerned this, he asked God to pardon the careless ones. Because he was obedient to God, his prayer was answered, and for a week there was joyous worship in the Days of Unleavened Bread, a time that God's Church still observes by praising the Creator in word and music, but not through meat sacrifices on altars.
The people were so enthusiastic that the government and church leaders took counsel and decided to continue worship services for another week. Hezekiah and the princes gladly arranged for two thousand bullocks and seventeen thousand sheep to be brought in to make more feasting possible. On the last day the priests asked God's blessing on those present, who dispersed with thankfulness that they had been able to come and enjoy the occasion. (II Chronicles 30:11-27.)
After leaving the temple, all the people didn't return to their homes immediately. Most of the men traveled throughout Judah, seeking idols and idol-worshipping places as they had done in Jerusalem. Zealously they smashed the images, cut down sacred groves and tore apart the altars. Those few who still favored these objects offered no resistance, not wishing to be recognized as idolaters.
The horde of idol-destroyers then swept northward into Israel to successfully continue the purge, but not without opposition. Some of the owners of images there tried to defend them, but failed because of the inspired eagerness of the followers of God. Ultimately they cleaned most of the pagan objects out of all Israel. Then they returned to their homes. (II Chronicles 31:1.)
Meanwhile, Hezekiah set about reestablishing a more permanent order of matters at the temple, including the specific ranks, courses and duties of the priests and other Levites. He planned how functions could be improved by more closely conforming to the manner in which they were carried out when the temple was new. (I Chronicles 23:1-6.)
Hezekiah also decided how much the king should contribute for offerings. (II Chronicles 31:3.) David, Solomon and other conscientious kings of Judah had furnished much for special offerings. Hezekiah wanted to follow their good example. (II Samuel 8:9-12; I Kings 8:5, 63; I Chronicles 22:2-4, 14-16; II Chronicles 7:4-5, etc.)
It Pays to Tithe
Also, in the times of the kings who followed God, the people supplied the needs of the Levites and the temple by paying tithes. Hezekiah reminded the people of this tithe. The response was more than enough. During the months that followed, there was such a surplus of animals, grain, wine, oil, honey and valuables that places had to be prepared to store or keep them.
The overabundance from the people reflected God's blessing on Judah because of the obedience of the king and his example and influence. (II Chronicles 31:2-12, 20-21.)
This change for the better didn't mean that there would be no trouble in the nation from then on. Judah was still under the burden of paying regular tribute to Assyria because of the heavy commitment made by King Ahaz. Besides, the Philistines were a constant threat from the west.
At that time the army of Judah wasn't very powerful, but in time Hezekiah patiently brought it up to much greater strength. A surprise attack on the Philistines pushed them back westward to the city of Gaza, their capital, only a few miles from the Great Sea (Mediterranean). Thus were regained some of the towns that had formerly belonged to Judah. (II Kings 18:1-8.)
Encouraged by this triumph over one ancient enemy nation, Hezekiah continued to build up his army. About twelve years after he had become king, he at last felt that his fighting force was strong enough to repel invasion by the most formidable army of that time -- that of Assyria.
Hezekiah then did something he had long wanted to do. It was time for paying the regular tribute to the king of Assyria. Instead of paying it, the king of Judah sent a message to Sennacherib, king of Assyria, informing him that Judah could no longer be considered one of Assyria's vassal nations, and therefore it owed no tribute. (II Kings 18:7.)
This was a bold act against such a powerful leader, but Hezekiah felt that it was a necessary step. He wasn't overly concerned about Sennacherib's reaction. As a matter of further preparedness, however, he heightened Jerusalem's walls and strengthened the fortifications. He believed in doing all that he could to prepare for the worst. Whatever he couldn't do for Judah would have to come as protection from God. (II Chronicles 32:5-8.)
The Conquering Assyrians
A few months after Hezekiah's message was sent to Sennacherib, a startling report was speedily carried into Jerusalem.
"Hordes of Assyrian soldiers are swarming southward west of Samaria, and are invading us through western Judah!" Hezekiah was informed. "They're swallowing up all our towns that are in their path!" (II Chronicles 32:1; II Kings 18:13.)
"It would be foolish to pursue them," one of Hezekiah's officers Observed. "Perhaps they're going to invade Egypt. If they plan a full-scale attack against Judah, why would they travel so far beyond Jerusalem?"
"That's what I want to know," Hezekiah said. "Send scouts and lookouts to find out all they can and report as soon as possible."
When the scouts sent messengers back to Jerusalem, it was with the discouraging news that the Assyrians had thoroughly plundered the towns in their path, and had made captives of the citizens. They had halted at the walled city of Lachish on the main highway to Egypt. They were besieging Lachish, which could indicate that Lachish was as far west as they planned to go.
The king of Judah was troubled. It was evident to him that this invasion was the result of his refusal to pay tribute to Sennacherib. A showdown at Jerusalem obviously wasn't very far away. Hezekiah called an immediate meeting of his advisors to determine what should be done next for the defense of the capital.
They decided that the most effective thing they could do, in the probable event the Assyrians came to Jerusalem, was to cut off the water supply by plugging up wells and springs outside the city. This was done after rural residents had stored much water in hidden places, although this measure was certain to bring hardship to farmers and stockmen. A crew of many workers even managed to divert and cover the stream called Kidron, so that it wouldn't be recognizable or easily accessible.
The king carried out every possible emergency measure. More shields and weapons were hastily produced, including machines that would loose showers of arrows and spears. Officers and leaders were assigned to various areas to keep people organized for resistance to invasion. (II Chronicles 32:2-6.)
By this time a large part of the citizens of Jerusalem and its environs were filled with fear, having heard that a gigantic Assyrian army was about to swallow up the whole nation of Judah and take the people into slavery as the invaders had done with the unrepentant inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel. (II Kings 18:9-12.)
Hezekiah was troubled by this fearful mood of his subjects. Now that so many of them had turned back to God, he had hoped that their faith in God would be stronger. But at the same time he realized that it was difficult to be calm with multiple thousands of enemy soldiers not many miles away. He tried to encourage them by going to the main gates of the city, where he could contact the largest crowds and speak directly to them.
"Don't be dismayed by what you have heard of the Assyrians," he told the people, who gathered in large numbers to hear him. "The army of the invaders is truly a powerful one. But our power can be even greater if we trust in God to strengthen us. Remain obedient to Him, and there will be no reason to be afraid."
The king's remarks soon spread to others who hadn't been present, giving them assurance and greater will to prepare and to resist if necessary. (II Chronicles 32:7-8.)
The King Wavers
Later, alone in his quarters, the king paced the floor. It wasn't that his faith in God's protection had suddenly vanished. It was that he was wondering how much more hardship and loss of life God would allow in Judah before rescuing the nation from the Assyrians.
"Perhaps I have been too stubborn," Hezekiah thought. "Perhaps my refusal to pay tribute will cost the lives of many of my people."
The king of Judah thereupon made a decision that changed matters somewhat, though not necessarily for the better. Messengers shortly afterward delivered a message to the Assyrians at Lachish. (II Kings 18:14.) It was for Sennacherib. Hezekiah trusted that it would be forwarded to the Assyrian emperor, wherever he was.
The message reached Sennacherib, whose face broke into a satisfied grin as he heard these words interpreted for him in his native tongue:
"It is obvious that my decision not to pay tribute to you has caused you great offense, for which I am regretful and ask your pardon. My nation does not want to indulge in war. Advise me what you require of Judah for the departure of your entire army without warfare. Whatever you ask will be paid."
(Signed) Hezekiah, King of Judah Not long afterward Hezekiah received this reply from the king of Assyria:
"Deliver to me three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Then I will take my army back to Assyria in peace."
(Signed) Sennacherib, King of Assyria and the World Hezekiah was stunned by this demand, which today would be equal to several millions of our dollars. Nevertheless, the king of Judah had promised to pay it, and he was determined to do so in spite of a difficult situation. That situation was that he didn't have the required amount of gold and silver. His personal finances and palace treasures couldn't meet such a demand. Taxing the people, even locally, would require too much time. Besides, such a measure wouldn't be good for the morale of his subjects, to whom he had recently spoken concerning faith in God for their protection.
There was only one resort -- the temple. Much as he regretted having to do it, Hezekiah gave confidential orders to the Levites that the gold and silver of the temple, including the precious metal that had been applied to the doors and pillars, should be removed and brought to the palace. This, with what Hezekiah could supply from palace treasures, added up to the amount Sennacherib had demanded. The total treasure, intended to insure Judah against war with the invaders, was dispatched to the Lachish area and turned over to Sennacherib's officers, who had it conveyed to their emperor. (II Kings 18:13-16.)
The Insolence of Plunderers
Anxious days passed for Hezekiah. He constantly hoped to hear that the Assyrians were starting to clear out of Judah. Instead of receiving encouraging news, he was shocked by the report that thousands of Assyrian troops and cavalry were heading toward Jerusalem.
At first Hezekiah tried to calm himself with the thought that the Assyrians were simply going to pass by the capital of Judah on their way to their home country. Perhaps Sennacherib was going to stop and thank him for the gold and silver. This wishful thinking came to an end when he saw the first columns of the tremendous army come over a rise and soon spread out around the city.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians flocked to the broad wall top to watch the invaders mass before them. Three Assyrian officers and their aides took up a position from where they could command the best attention of the onlookers. (II Kings 18:17.)
"I am Tartan, King Sennacherib's treasurer and general!" one of the richly uniformed men loudly shouted. "My king has sent us to give a message to your king! Send him out on the wall to hear it!"
"Sennacherib's general has a message from his king for you, sire," an excited servant quickly informed Hezekiah.
"I know," Hezekiah nodded. "I heard his raucous voice and his insolent tone. I don't intend to jump at his command. If the king of Assyria must use representatives, so shall I."
A little later three of Hezekiah's men of top rank appeared on the wall. They were Eliakim, Shebna and Joah. These were the steward of the royal household, the king's chief secretary and his official recorder and keeper of the archives. After they were introduced, another of the three Assyrian officers waved for attention.
"I am Rab-shakeh, chief of the wine cellar and cupbearer to the world's greatest king!" he called out in Hebrew. "We didn't think your king would dare expose himself to us! My king wants to know how the faint-hearted Hezekiah can protect his nation from destruction by locking himself and his army inside high walls! Surely he wasn't foolish enough to believe that the miserable bribe he recently sent would buy freedom from us!" (II Kings 18:18-20.)
Standing by a window where he could hear every spiteful word, the king of Judah suddenly felt very ill when he learned that he had made the tribute payment in vain. The treacherous Sennacherib's promise to leave Judah without more war was merely a ruse to bring reproach on Hezekiah before the mighty Assyrian army moved to strike at Jerusalem!
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A Tyrant's Boast And Divine Justice
HEZEKIAH soon learned that the king of Assyria had accepted the special tribute from Judah without honoring the promise to cease war. The humiliation and distress of Hezekiah, king of Judah, wasn't easy to bear. (II Kings 18:13-17.)
But there wasn't time to brood. Rab-shakeh, one of the Assyrian officers, was addressing the people of Judah who were standing on top of the wall. He continued his loud tirade against Hezekiah.
An Officer's Boast
"Where is the military power of your king, who is so foolish as to rebel against the powerful Sennacherib?" Rab-shakeh roared. "Could it be that your Hezekiah is waiting for the Pharaoh of Egypt to come galloping to his rescue on his overrated horses? If that's the way it is, your king is due for disappointment, because Pharaoh is about as dependable as a broken reed in the Nile River!
"And don't ask us to believe that it will do your king any good for him to rely on his God! Hezekiah forced you to stop sacrificing to your God in your favorite high places and made you crowd in before only one altar in only one temple! How can help be expected from a God who was thus offended?
"Why are you people willing to face death by famine merely because your king tells you that your God wants to save you from Sennacherib? Don't you know that for generations the Assyrians have crushed other nations whose gods were never able to protect them? Your God isn't even as powerful as those other gods!
"Since Pharaoh won't help you, we will make a wager. We'll give you two thousand horses that are superior to any you could find in Egypt!
Then you can send your army out to fight if you dare. Or do you think you could scrape up anywhere near two thousand riders from among all of you?
"Now listen to this, which will surprise you! Because your God doesn't care for you anymore, He has asked us to destroy you if you resist." (II Kings 18:18-25.)
With this, Rab-shakeh stepped aside for Rabsaris, the chief of Sennacherib's attendants. He continued in the same blasphemous vein.
By the time he finished, the audience was somewhat stunned by all the loud bragging and lying. Then Eliakim, Hezekiah's chamberlain, held up his arms to get the attention of the Assyrian officers.
"If you have more to say," he called down to them in the Assyrian language, "considerately talk in your native language instead of Hebrew. The three of us understand Assyrian, and we'll pass on your remarks to our king. No good will come of our people hearing what you have to say."
"King Sennacherib didn't send us to speak just to you and your king!" Rab-shakeh bellowed back in Hebrew. "We came here to tell all of you that unless you come out to us peacefully, you'll soon have nothing to eat or drink except what comes from your own starving bodies!" (II Kings 18:26-27.)
Rab-shakeh continued: "Now hear me, you people of Judah! The mighty Sennacherib warns you not to believe your king when he tells you that your God has the power to save this city! It is a lie! Your only hope is to come out to us! Then you will be free instead of prisoners inside those walls, and you will be given farms to live on in comfort. Many of you will be favored by being taken to a bigger and a richer land where there is an oversupply of grain, grapes, olives and honey! Do you have the wisdom to choose these good things, or do you choose to foolishly follow your fanatical king to your death?" (II Kings 18:28-35.)
The King Appeals to God
There wasn't a sound of reaction from the people of Judah, who had been instructed to remain silent regardless of what they heard. This was disappointing to the Assyrian leaders, who had hoped that there would be some in the crowd who would become so fearful and frantic that they would start clamoring for immediate surrender. He should have realized that when people have strong, concerned leadership, they obey their leaders. Many of the people quietly left the walls, while the more curious stayed to see what the Assyrian leaders would do next. Eliakim, Shebna and Joah were so upset by the situation that they tore their coats in the ancient manner of Israelites who were greatly grieved. (II Kings 18:36-37.)
Hezekiah had retired to where he couldn't hear the loud shouting of the Assyrians, but when Eliakim told him all that had been said, he, too, was so overwhelmed by grief that he ripped his coat. Then he removed his royal attire and dressed himself in sackcloth, an Israelite custom of expressing extreme sorrow. He went to the temple to pray.
"We must take this matter of impending attack to God through the prophet Isaiah," Hezekiah later told Eliakim. "You know where Isaiah lives. Take Shebna and some of the leading priests with you. Request the prophet to ask God what we should do." (II Kings 19:1-2.)
Isaiah had lived a long time in Judah. Back in the last days of King Uzziah he had become a faithful and obedient follower of God's laws. (Isaiah 1:1.) One time when he was in the temple, he was startled to see God sitting on a high throne surrounded by shining, six-winged creatures known as seraphim, who were moving about in a haze of smoke and calling out in praise of the Creator. (Isaiah 6:1-4.)
"I am going to die!" Isaiah muttered fearfully to himself. "I am not worthy to see God and live! I am one of a nation of people with unclean lips!"
The vision was so real to Isaiah that it was as if he were actually before God's throne. To add to his fright, one of the seraphim flew to a fiery altar, picked up a glowing coal with tongs, and headed straight for Isaiah as though to deliberately burn him. Isaiah couldn't move. The coal was pressed against his mouth, but there was no pain.
"Now that this has touched your lips, you have been purged of sin," the seraph said, and flew off to leave Isaiah puzzled and trembling. (Isaiah 6:5-7.)
"Whom shall I send to warn the people of Judah of what they will face in the future?" a voice thundered.
Isaiah looked up to see the God of Israel gazing expectantly down on him.
"Send me!" Isaiah called out, surprising himself with his readiness to volunteer for something he didn't yet know about.
"So be it," God nodded. "You are chosen to tell the people of the misery to come to them unless they turn from their idolatry. They won't listen and they therefore won't understand, but they won't be able to say that I didn't warn them. I shall instruct you from time to time what to say to them. Your warnings will only cause them to become more blind and deaf and have less understanding because they will refuse to change their ways. Nevertheless, continue warning them."
"But if they won't listen, how long must I continue doing this thing?" Isaiah asked.
"Until the people have been herded from their cities and fields and have been forced to go to other parts of the world," God answered. "Long after that, a tenth part of them shall return, like a planted tree seed, to start a new national growth." (Isaiah 6:8-13.)
Like one coming out of unconsciousness, Isaiah slowly realized that he was in the temple, and not in heaven, and that he had seen only a vision of God and the seraphim. He understood that it was a commission from God, and that for the rest of his life it would be his duty to prophesy as God would direct.
Down through the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, Isaiah came to public and royal attention because of his predictions. But in Ahaz's day he was generally ignored. Before the predictions came true, he was usually ridiculed. But by Hezekiah's time, because so many in Judah had turned back to God, Isaiah gained national respect. Hezekiah considered him the man closest to God in Judah. That is why Eliakim and Shebna were sent to him. (II Kings 19:2.)
Isaiah wasn't surprised when he saw the two officials at his door. They were dressed in sackcloth, as were the priests who accompanied them. Having been given a strong sense of discernment, Isaiah was aware of why his visitors had come.
"I know the king is dismayed by the close presence of the enemy," the graying prophet told them, "but God has already made it known to me that there is nothing to fear. Tell the king that Rab-shakeh has left to ask Sennacherib what to do next. Tell him that bad news will come to the king of Assyria and cause him to change his plans. He will return to his country, where God will cause him to be murdered." (II Kings 19:3-7.)
Meanwhile, to the southwest toward the border of Egypt, Sennacherib had ended his siege of Lachish. He decided, next, to move his army northeastward toward Jerusalem, to another walled city, Libnah. This is where Rab-shakeh found him. (II Kings 19:8.) Sennacherib then received a troublesome report that the king of Ethiopia, a nation also known then as Upper Egypt, was on his way north with an army to help the soldiers of Lower Egypt push back the Assyrians. (II Kings 19:9.) Sennacherib immediately decided to pit all his troops against Judah's capital. If he could take Jerusalem, he was certain that the whole nation would be his and that Ethiopians would be defeated. However, he still had hopes of sparing his army from a costly battle by frightening Hezekiah into surrender without any fighting.
The king of Judah soon received this letter from the king of Assyria: "I, Sennacherib, king of the world's most powerful nation, herewith advise you that I am moving the main part of my army to Jerusalem to join my troops who are already there. When all my troops and all my battering rams are put into action, they will reduce the walls of your city to rubble. But I am as fair as I am powerful. I do not war for the sake of war. I liberate men from their attachments to weak and deceptive gods. No god has yet been able to protect his people from me. Neither will your God. It would please me and save thousands of the lives of your people if you would arrange to surrender to my troops who are already there. Then, when I arrive with the part of my army that is with me, we can calmly and reasonably discuss a good future for your people.
"But if you are so foolish as to trust in your God, who has deceived you by boasting of His ability to protect Jerusalem, your future will be short and bloody! I shall smash and plunder your city and drag away as slaves any who escape my spears, arrows and swords! Your fanciful God won't be able to do any more for you than the gods of other nations did for their people whom I killed or captured!" (II Kings 19:10-13; II Chronicles 32:9-19.)
Hezekiah was so perturbed by this letter, delivered directly by Sennacherib's messengers, that he went at once to the Temple. There he spread the letter out before God and kneeled down to pray.
"God of Israel, Creator of the universe," Hezekiah began, "please listen to me. See in this letter the blasphemous words of the king of Assyria and how he has tried to belittle you. He boasts that the gods of other nations have failed to save those nations from his invasions. To brag about being more powerful than lifeless idols of wood, stone and metal is nothing. The troublesome part is that he has swallowed up one nation after another because they trusted in idols instead of trusting in your supreme power. Rescue us from this pagan scourge, I beseech you. Then people everywhere will learn that you are the one and only true God." (II Kings 19:14-19; II Chronicles 32:20.)
When Hezekiah returned to his palace, Eliakim and Shebna were waiting for him with the encouraging message from Isaiah.
They informed the king of Judah that God had heard and would answer the prayer he had uttered at the temple, asking for help against the Assyrians.
"With God as your strength, there is no reason for you to be fearful or discouraged," Isaiah's message read. "Even the young women of Jerusalem hold Sennacherib in such contempt that they laugh at the mention of his name, though his troops are just outside the city. God has been greatly angered by his blasphemy and his boasting about the nations he has conquered.
"This swaggering tyrant, suffocating in his egotism, would be shocked out of his shirt if he could know that he never would have become king of Assyria or won even one small battle if the God of Israel hadn't allowed it. Any success he had in conquering other nations was because the Creator chose to use him to carry out a small bit of a plan formed centuries ago.
"Now God is through with him, and because of his despicable acts and words against our God and against you, God will send him back to his country. Then the fields and orchards the Assyrians have ravaged will produce of themselves, in spite of their mutilated condition -- a miraculous sign of God's power and willingness to help Judah. Those who have been driven off their farms, and are taking refuge in Jerusalem, shall return safely to find fruits, grains and vegetables starting to grow without attendance.
"As for Sennacherib, he shall not set foot inside this city. Not one arrow shall be shot against it from an Assyrian bow. No enemy soldier shall approach the wall with his shield in front of him.
The Assyrians shall not put even a shovelful of dirt against the wall to start building a bank from which to attack you. God will protect Jerusalem because He wants to, and because of the covenant He made with King David more than three hundred years ago. All this God has made known to me so that I should inform you." (II Kings 19:20-34.)
Calmed and comforted by Isaiah's message, Hezekiah couldn't help but feel shame and regret for having fallen into doubt, especially after trying to strengthen and encourage his people by telling them there was nothing to fear as long as they obeyed and trusted God. When the inhabitants of Jerusalem heard what Isaiah had to say to their king, most of them felt almost jubilant.
By this time the sun was setting. Darkness came. It was the eve of the Passover, the 14th of Nisan -- the first month of the spring of the year. That night (II Kings 19:35), all that could be learned of the Assyrians was that they were very busy, judging from the shouted orders and the clatter of arms and equipment. This was followed by the sounds of obvious revelry for the next two or three hours. That was followed at midnight by an ominous silence.
Either the Assyrians had decided to sleep for the night -- or they were silently carrying out some plan of attack.
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