The Destruction of Israel
2 Kings 14:1-15:38
There are numerous similarities between a sunrise and a sunset. At these 2 times of the day the sun is approximately at the same place on the horizon (though one is in the east and the other in the west). At both times of the day the sun and sky are more beautiful than at any other time of the day. Many people will rise to see the sunrise or go outside to see the sunset, and yet hardly anybody ever goes outside to see the noonday sun. Although the 2 events are similar, they couldn't be any more different. Sunrise points forward to the full day, while sunset indicates that the world is being plunged into darkness. The similarities are only superficial, while the differences are critical.
The nation of Israel experienced both a sunrise with the reigns of David and Solomon and a sunset with the reigns of Jehoash/Jeroboam 2 in the northern kingdom of Israel and with the reigns of Amaziah and Uzziah (Azariah) in the southern kingdom of Israel. During both the sunrise and setset of Israel her borders will extend to their greatest lengths, from the Nile River to the Euphrates. During both times the nation will experience economic prosperity. Yet the reigns of David and Solomon lead to a bright future (which the nation squanders), while these latter reigns lead to the darkest night for Israel. Because Israel squandered her last chance, she is going to be plunged into darkness.
THE REIGNS OF AMAZIAH AHD AZARIAH (UZZIAH) IN THE SOUTH (14:1-22; 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 25:1-26:23)
The Reign of Amaziah (14:1-20; 2 Chron. 25:1-28)
Second Kings 14 takes us back to events in the southern kingdom of Judah, still led by the household of David. Joash who had served God faithfully for approximately 40 years abandoned God at the end and turned to the Asherah. After the prophet Zechariah rebuked him, Joash had the priest murdered, even though the prophet was the son of his mentor Jehoiada. In response to this murder 2 conspirators rise up against Joash and assassinate him. His son Amaziah ascends the throne. As soon as Amaziah consolidates his power, he has the 2 conspirators executed. Second Kings praises Amaziah for his restraint. Normally whenever a person assassinated somebody, the avenger would not only execute the assassin, he would take out the assassin's entire family as well. In accordance with the Mosaic Law though, Amaziah has only the violators executed. (The question is whether or not he should have executed these conspirators who had in the first place probably acted justly.)
Second Kings focuses on 2 related acts of Amaziah. The first act revolves around Amaziah's invasion of Edom. During the reign of David the Jews invaded and conquered the land of Edom which lay to the southeast of Judah. Edom though had risen in rebellion against Judah during the reign of ........ and had gained her freedom. Amaziah though launches a successful invasion of Edom, forcing Edom back into the status of a vassal state.
At this point Amaziah engages in one of the most bizarre and illogical acts in the entire Bible. Whatever else the invasion of Edom proved, it demonstrated that the God of Judah was more powerful than the gods of Edom. Judah, not Edom, won the war. Judah's God gave her the victory. Amaziah's response to this? He brings the Edomite gods into Judah and begins to worship these gods!
Before we criticize such an act, we need to look at ourselves and see if we are guilty of just the same thing. How many of us worship our material possessions? You buy new furniture; you polish it; you vacuum it; you protect it; you get so stressed out if anybody with red Kool-Aid gets anywhere near it. That furniture controls you. (The same way with our clothing, cars, etc.) Yet how mighty is that furniture? A little 2-year old comes in with a sharp object and slices the fabric of the furniture into shreds. Even a 2-year old is greater than our furniture/clothes/cars, etc., and yet we continue to worship them.
This absurdity takes other forms. How many of us have decent marriages. We probably will never appear on the cover of Family Life Magazine (if one exists); however, our marriages are manageable. Along come people who have been married several times who consider themselves experts in marital relationships. They have all sorts of advice about the way you and your mate should relate. When Nancy and I got engaged, we went to a counselor for pre-marital counseling. The counselor proceeded to tell us that he had been divorced. We sat through the session politely. After we paid the bill, we left the office. I told Nancy, "Sorry, we're not going back to this guy. I will never have confidence in the advice he gives regarding marriage. If he doesn't know how to make his own marriage work, then why would I listen to him regarding my marriage?" Youth do the same thing too. They get advice sometimes from friends who are at least as messed up as they are. They learn how to drive a car from a friend who's had several wrecks. It's illogical and absurd, but we do it anyway.
Amaziah's actions incite God's wrath against Judah. God entices Judah to pick a fight with the stronger nation of Israel to the north. When Amaziah challenges Joash the king of the northern kingdom, Joash responds with a parable. Joash compares Judah to a small thorn bush and Israel his kingdom to a mighty cedar tree. Just like Amaziah the weak thorn bush demands that the mighty cedar give his daughter to the son of the thorn bush for a wife. How weak though is the thorn bush? A little animal passing by tramples down the thorn bush, something the animal could never do to the mighty cedar. Joash tells Amaziah to be content with his victory over Edom. Amaziah though remains unperturbed. He demands that Joash meet him in battle.
The result is a disaster for Amaziah. Not only does Joash defeat him in battle at Beth Shemesh (located just to the southwest of Jerusalem), Joash captures Amaziah and hauls him off captive to the northern kingdom of Israel. Moreover, Joash destroys 600 feet of the defensive wall surrounding Jerusalem, the portion facing north where Jerusalem was most vulnerable to attack. (The north wall faced a flat plane while the other 3 sides faced steep cliffs and valleys.) Amaziah remains in Israelite custody most likely for the next 12 years while Joash lives. His son Azariah serves as regent while his father is in captivity. Upon the death of Joash, Amaziah is released only to find a hostile audience awaiting him. Upon his return to Judah, Amaziah is confronted by assassins who pursue him to the city of Lachish where they are able to carry out their plot against his life.
The Reign of Azariah (Uzziah) 14:20-22, 15:1-7; 2 Chron. 26:1-23
Uzziah like his father starts out well. Like the kings who preceded him, although he worships the Lord, he does not destroy the high places where the people worshiped either the Lord or idols. His reign lasts a total of 52 years. For the first part of his reign, he co-reigns with his father Amaziah who is prisoner of Joash in Israel. For the next 28 years he acts as role regent over Judah. Then matters turn for the worst.
Like his father Azariah (Uzziah) extends the territory of Judah at Edom's expense. By the time he is finished, Judah's territory extends to Elath, the port city on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba. Uzziah is elated by his victory and proceeds to the Temple mound in order to offer sacrifice to God. Whereas other kings followed the divine procedure of allowing the priests to offer sacrifice for them, Uzziah is so puffed up that he decides that he will offer up the sacrifice himself. As he approaches the altar of incense in the holy place, 80 of the priests confront Uzziah. They remind him that he is only of the tribe of Judah, a tribe Moses has NOT entrusted with the task of offering sacrifice; that prerogative belongs to the sons of Aaron a Levite alone. Uzziah though is intent on offering the sacrifice. At this point God strikes Uzziah with leprosy, first on his forehead and then throughout the rest of his body. For the last 12 years of his reign Uzziah is forced to live in seclusion in the royal residence. His son Jotham acts as prince regent, actually overseeing the affairs of state.
CONDITIONS IN THE NORTHERN KINGDOM OF ISRAEL (2 Kings 14:23-29; 15:8-38)
The Reign of Jeroboam 2 (2 Kings 14:23-29)
The last part of chapter 14 takes us back to events in the northern kingdom Israel. Upon the death of Joash, Jeroboam 2 ascends the throne of Israel. Like his predecessors he continues in the sin of his namesake Jeroboam 1 by leading the people to worship the golden calves in Dan and Bethel. God once more proves gracious to Israel by extending her borders not only to include the lands of Israel to the east of the Jordan River (Gilead) but also to the north-east to the borders of the Euphrates River (Hamath). During this one brief spell the northern and southern kingdoms rule over the same amount of land that Solomon had previously reigned over, from the Nile to the Euphrates. Instead of acknowledging God as being gracious to the Jews, they interpret this boon as a validation of their lapse into idolatry, as an affirmation of their idolatrous culture. At the very least they act as if God is winking at their idolatry.
The Ministry of Hosea (Hosea 1:1-3:3)
During the reigns of Jeroboam 2, God sends prophets (Amos and Hosea) to Israel to forewarn her of the impending disaster if she does not repent of her idolatry. (Although the prophecies of these 2 men are compelling, they are not placed on the same level as Elijah and Elisha who performed miracles in defense of Israel.)
God communicates to Hosea that He would wants Hosea to serve as a type of model of God's relationship with Israel. God instructs Hosea to go marry a woman named Gomer. This part of the story should not surprise us since Hosea is representing God in His relationship with Israel. God's love for Israel is so great that the best kind of relationship to express His love is that of a love a groom feels for his bride. (The NT adopts this same analogy to describe the relationship of Christ to the church.) What is shocking about the story is that God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute! Israel is so faithless to God that the only person who can accurately portray Israel in this act is a prostitute.
Three children are born to Gomer, the name of each child showing how God's relationship with Israel has regressed. The name of the first child is Jezreel, named after the place where Jehu killed all the household of Ahab in accordance with God's command. Although Jehu faithfully executed God's judgment, he went overboard. He did not stop with just the family of Ahab. He practically slaughtered any and everybody associated with the family of Ahab, whether blood related or not. He was overzealous in his execution. The second child is named Lo-ruhamah, "Lo" meaning "no" and "Ruhamah" meaning "compassion," that is, "no compassion." Israel has proved so faithless to God that He is about to show no compassion to her. The third child though is named Lo-ammi, "Lo" meaning "No" and "ammi" meaning "people," that is, "Not my people." Gomer has gone back to her prostitution. By the time the third child is born, Hosea knows that this child is not his. In the same way Israel has been such a slut in her relationships with these other gods that any and everything she produces is illegitimate.
Gomer is not content in just playing the harlot. She decides to abandon her husband and children, going after men who are no good for her. Little does she realize the extent of their neglect and abuse of her. The food she receives does not come from her lovers but from Hosea who secretly slips food to her lovers to make sure that she is provided for. In the same way although Israel seeks after the Baals and the golden calves, these are not the ones who send the rains which refresh the earth. God, even though not receiving the credit, continues to provide for the harlot Israel.
It's amazing how this happens even today. We reject God in favor of people, things, events which are destructive: certain relationships, drugs, entertainment. Philip Taft, our resident psychologist, can attest to the fact that people constantly engage in destructive behavior. Unfortunately their attitude is that anything is better than Jesus, even though He is the One who is actually giving them what blessings they still enjoy in their lives today.
Gomer's situation regresses to such an extent that she falls into the hands of a man who actually sells her into slavery. There on the auction block, stripped naked, and humiliated for all to see, Gomer stands. As the crowd leers at her up steps her husband. Most likely the crowd is thinking that vengeance is surely Hosea's and that his vengeance must be sweet to him. She who has humiliated him is now the object of great derision and humiliation. Hosea's response though? He outbids the highest bidder. Out of love he buys back his wayward wife. He takes her home and tells her, "It's over. It's done. The whoring stops now. You will stay home. You will be my wife."
The story of Hosea and Gomer depicts the greater love story between God and Israel. From the looks of it, it appears that Hosea had tamed Gomer's destructive impulses, that she became the wife she needed to be. On the other hand, although God had done so much for Israel, even after she went a-whoring after other gods and after she had suffered humiliation after humiliation at the hands of the Syrians, she refused to learn her lesson. Somebody recently asked me why it is that the Jews today do not accept Jesus. This question implies that the Jews have always accepted God. A closer look at the OT reveals that only on rare occasions did Israel live in an obedient relationship with God. Gomer is one of the best representatives of the Jew throughout Jewish history. Since Israel does not repent of her evil, all is lost for her. It is now just a matter of time before the Assyrians destroy the northern kingdom once and for all.
Israel Descends into the Abyss (15:8-38)
With the death of Jeroboam 2, Israel descends into virtual anarchy. His son Zechariah ascends the throne and reigns for only 6 months. He is assassinated by Shallum who reigns for a total of just one month. Shallum in turn is dispensed by Menahem who does reign for 10 years. Things progress so badly that when Menahem assumes the throne, he has to force the Israelite city of Tiphsah into submission. After a successful siege of the city, he retaliates by massacring the people in the city, even to the point of slicing open the wombs of pregnant women. He in turn is succeeded by his son Pekahiah who after only a period of 2 years is assassinated by Pekah an army officer. Pekah reigns for a period of 20 years. During this time Israel has become so weak that the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser is able to conquer all of Galilee to the north and Gilead to the east. These events lead to another coup; Pekah is eventually dispatched to the nether regions by Hoshea. These events weaken Israel to such an extent that what is left of Israel is going to be an easy prey for Assyria to pick off.