We read of Amaziah’s succeeding his father Joash in Jerusalem in 12:21 and we were given the summary of Jehoash’s reign in Samaria in 13:10-13. But now, in the account of Amaziah’s reign in the south we read of his war with Jehoash, king of Israel. We also are given a summary of Amaziah’s reign and of Jehoash’ son, Jeroboam the II, also called Jeroboam the Great.
v.6 Amaziah is given a mixed review. He was a good king and did some good things. He was concerned to obey God’s law in some important particulars and by doing so in one case actually defied the custom of kings in that time who considered it much safer to eliminate as many as possible of those who might seek revenge in the future. But like other kings of Judah he didn’t do nearly as much as he might have done and as he ought to have done. In particular he left the high places operating, an open invitation to pagan thought and practice in his kingdom. As it happened, the good Amaziah did had only a temporary effect, but his failures, together with the same failures of other kings of Judah, made inevitable the catastrophe of 586 B.C., Judah’s exile, and the still further diminishment of the people of God. As Shakespeare famously has it: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
v.7 In other words, he regained Judah’s control over Edom that had been lost during the reign of Jehoram (as we read in 8:20-22).
v.8 There is background here that the author of Kings does not include. After his victory over Edom, Amaziah had brought captured Edomite idols and incorporated them into officially approved worship in Jerusalem. For this the Lord’s prophets had foretold judgment for him. This is the famous episode, recounted in 2 Chron. 25, in which the prophet pointed out to Amaziah that a man has to be pretty stupid to worship the gods that he himself had just defeated in battle.
Flush from his victory over Edom, Amaziah planned next to go to war against Israel. Chronicles gives us some background here as well (25:7-14). Amaziah had hired some Israelite mercenaries for his war with Edom but had sent them home because of advice he had received from “a man of God.” Furious, the mercenaries then turned on their former employer, killed some people in Judah and plundered some towns. Once finished with the Edomites, Amaziah sought revenge for the damage inflicted by these Israelites soldiers. [House, 318]
v.10 Such a parable in some form or another is found elsewhere in ANE materials. In sum Jehoash told Amaziah to be content with his small victories and not to tangle with a nation that had been able to whip Syria, a much more considerable enemy than Edom. [House, 324]
v.11 The author of Chronicles says flat out that Amaziah’s failure to listen to Jehoash’s perfectly sensible warning was the means the Lord used to bring him to judgment.
“But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom.” [2 Chron. 25:20]
v.14 For the first time in her history as Israel’s capital, Jerusalem fell to an enemy and was plundered. A foretaste of things to come.
v.17 We are going to be told that Amaziah lived for fifteen years after the death of Jehoash, but we are not told that he reigned during those years. We are told of his capture in v. 13 but never of his release. This may explain the curious fact that we have a summary of Jehoash’s reign again in vv. 15-16, though we were given such a summary already in 13:10-13. This is the only time where we have two summaries of the same king’s reign. Are we hearing of Jehoash again here because, with the capture of Amaziah, Jehoash was the real power in Judah during this time? [Provan, 236-237]
v.19 We are not told who the conspirators were. What is more, there is no mention later, either in Kings or Chronicles, of reprisals under Amaziah’s son Azariah, who was a powerful king and enjoyed a very long reign. Was the son implicated in the assassination of the father, who by now must have been a very unpopular figure in Jerusalem?
v.21 It is possible that the anointing of Azariah (also known as Uzziah) took place while Amaziah was either a captive or had been unseated by Jehoash and the Israelite army. The length of Amaziah’s reign as given in v. 2, the scholars of such things report, makes better sense if his reign included a co-regency with his son, Azariah. It is possible to translate “took” as “had taken,” that is, had made Azariah king years before Amaziah died.
v.23 The author of Kings shows his selective interest in giving such short shrift to the long and illustrious reign of the man who was perhaps Israel’s ablest king subsequent to the division of the kingdom. Jeroboam, taking advantage of the facts that Syria had been severely weakened by Assyrian attacks but that Assyria was, at that time, preoccupied elsewhere, restored the northern border of Israel to where it had been in the time of David. The resultant prosperity led to the spiritual conditions that were then denounced by Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah. Prosperity and idolatry advanced together in the northern kingdom as they so often have since. The tax returns from the period show ever increasing royal revenue, but they also indicate that for every eleven Israelite names that are a compound of Yahweh, there are seven that are compounds of Baal. [Wiseman, 248]
The 41 years probably likewise includes a co-regency between Jehoash and Jeroboam.
v.25 Lebo-hamath is the ideal northern boundary of Israel as we read in Numbers 13:21. The “Sea of Arabah” indicates that Israel dominated Moab and the entire length of the King’s Highway running north and south, east of the Jordan. This is confirmed in Amos 6:13-14.
Jonah had prophesied this expansion, though we have no written record of the prophesy he made.
v.26 The affliction referred to was the suffering of Israel as a result of her constant defeat at the hands of Syria (Aram). The result of God’s help was that Syria was virtually integrated into Israel and made a vassal of Jeroboam, that is, a complete reversal of fortune. The Lord doesn’t mess around! When he helps, he helps! But, of course, as we already know, this reversal will be temporary only. The underlying reasons for God to judge Israel remain and, in fact, worsen during Jeroboam’s reign.
v.27 The Lord was patient and he gave Israel every opportunity to repent, indeed, centuries of opportunity. But as one commentator insightfully puts it: “Israel used the time of her respite to weave the rope with which she was soon to be hanged.” [Robinson in Wiseman, 249]
In any case, Israel’s good fortunes are the result not of a renewed fidelity to the Lord and his covenant; Yahweh wasn’t blessing them for that. Israel enjoyed good fortune as a nation because there was still mercy to be found from the Lord. He has not yet reached the point where he would extend no further help to his idolatrous people. However, that day was coming.
v.28 We do not know precisely what is meant by the narrator’s statement that Jeroboam, king of Israel, restored Hamath to Judah in Israel. Was a town returned as part of a treaty? Does “in Israel” mean “at Israel’s cost”? We simply don’t have enough information to solve this perplexing puzzle.
v.29 The mention of Jeroboam’s son Zechariah reminds us that the Lord had promised Jehu that his descendants would rule in Israel to the fourth generation. Zechariah represents that fourth generation.
The question facing a reader of Kings, at least the largest part of the narrative of Kings, is this: what am I to take from this history? What is the Lord saying to me? How is this text teaching me the great lessons of faith and life? Obviously it is not an account of redemption itself. There is nothing here of the forgiveness of sins through faith in God. It is an account of the politics of two nation states which, at that time, were ruled by non-entities. It’s the history of two nobodies behaving badly. What are we supposed to learn from that? As a matter of fact, they played at all on the stage of ANE politics in those years because Assyria, the new great power, was distracted with rebellions nearer home. A few decades later, Assyria, no longer distracted, would sweep over the Levant and bring an end to the history of the northern kingdom. Israel as a nation would be wiped off the face of the map.
So what do the Word of God and its history have for you and me in a passage like this? Well, what you gain from a text like this is wisdom, understanding, a grasp of what the world is like and how things happen in it and why. What we have here, when rightly understood, are the sort of life-lessons that every Christian must eventually learn and take to heart. What you gain by absorbing such a narrative as this is a biblical world view, a way of looking at the world and at one’s place in it. It happens to be a way of seeing life in this world by faith rather than by sight, not an easy thing, which may explain why there is so much of this kind of narrative in the Bible. We need these lessons.
Let me show you what I mean.
- In the first place, we are taught in this chapter, as we are so often taught in the Bible – Holy Scripture is a very repetitive teacher – that a great deal happens in this world that bears no obvious connection to anything that really and finally matters.
We’ve had an interesting week in the United States of America. Monday night came the electrifying news that the U.S. Military had found and killed the man who had been the object of the most concentrated manhunt in the history of the world, Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. I happened to have just returned home Monday night, turned on the television to a baseball game and across the bottom of the screen scrolled the news report: “The American military has killed Osama Bin Laden and they have the body.” In this age of I-phones, blackberries, cell phones, and the like the news apparently had spread around the stadium in New York in a matter of a minute or two and suddenly, though there was no public announcement in the stadium, the crowd was chanting “USA, USA.”
Is this important? Of course it is, in a certain way. Very important. Lives are at stake. Terrorism is a scourge. It has destabilized still further an already very unsettled world. But is it fundamental to anything in the life of the world as God measures and judges human life? Is it going to alter anything in a way that is eternally significant? For that matter, was 9/11 fundamental to the life of the world? Not really. Is the death of Osama Bin Laden going to arrest the moral and spiritual decline of the West? Is it going to lead people in large numbers to confess Christ as Lord and begin to live in submission to him? No; it won’t have any such effect. The world will go on much as it has been, as we found out after 9/11, and its spiritual condition, at least that of the West, is very likely to continue to decline.
Was this dust-up between Judah and Israel important? Yes. Soldiers died in battle, Jerusalem was taken, plundered, and her walls were severely damaged. One king was captured and his reign effectively ended, which, no doubt, effected many people for both good and bad. But did anything really change?
No. Judah and Israel’s sparring with one another would prove in a few years to have been little more than a fantasy, two little nations acting as if they were far more important than they were. Jehoash, who spoke so assuredly in reply to Amaziah’s challenge, had no clue that his entire nation was to disappear within half a century. Amaziah, who imagined that he could take on Israel and defeat it on the battlefield – a presumption very quickly to be exposed – had no idea that his kingdom was soon to be little more than a small vassal state of the great Assyrian empire, its so-called kings doing their master’s will and living at his beck and call.
What we have here in 2 Kings 14 is just what we see everywhere we look in our world today. People going about their business utterly oblivious to what is actually was really going on in the world, utterly unaware of the principles by which the life of man is measured and judged, oblivious to the fact that the Almighty is always moving the pieces on the chessboard to accomplish his will, to further the interests of his kingdom, to judge his people, to demonstrate his patience, and, from time to time, to execute his holy vengeance in the world. What we find here in 2 Kings 14 is what we find everywhere and always: most people utterly clueless as to what is really happening in the world and what is going to happen and concentrating with the greatest attention on things that matter almost not at all.
It is interesting that in this account of political and military maneuvers, we are twice reminded that God has his own plan, is orchestrating events for his own purposes, and is, in fact, calling all the shots. In Chronicles, as I mentioned, we are told that Amaziah’s stubborn refusal to heed Jehoash’s warning was from the Lord, a means for bringing him to judgment for his sins. But here we are told in v. 25 that Israel’s expansion under Jeroboam II was according to the Word of the Lord – it wasn’t Jeroboam who did that, not really; it was the Lord, who kept the Assyrians distracted and at bay for fully 50 years while he waited patiently, one last time, for Israel’s repentance. Mighty Assyria was at war in the east to give Israel one last opportunity to grasp the truth about her life and her relationship to Yahweh and to repent and to be saved. Nobody in Assyria understood that this was the reason for what was happening in imperial politics and war- making at the time and nobody in Israel, or very, very few, gathered that this was the reason for Israel’s prosperity and peace. This point is made again in vv. 26-27. It was the Lord’s patience, not Jeroboam’s greatness that brought peace and prosperity to Israel. How little anyone understood in those years that this was the Lord God giving Israel one last chance, a chance that when squandered would never come again.
What is more important about the Western world in our day: terrorism or abortion; terrorism or rampant sexual promiscuity; terrorism or materialism; terrorism or the rejection of the Christian faith and the law of God? What will have the most categorical and final effect on our prospects as a people? 2 Kings 14 warns us against ever thinking that politics or military action, whether triumphant or tragic, is the real story of human life. It is God’s will, both his Law and his counsel, that will always, sooner or later, tell the tale!
II. Second, even accepting that fact, there remains much that we cannot explain and cannot predict.
We read of Amaziah at the beginning of this account that he was a good king. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, though, to be sure, not to the degree that David did. There was a limit to his covenantal faithfulness. Nevertheless, he was a good king. And the narrator takes the opportunity to mention something that he did simply because of his loyalty to the Law of God. He executed the men who had assassinated his father, but he did not execute their children, even though that decision held some risk for him.
All this being so, we would naturally expect that Amaziah would defeat Jehoash in battle. After all, don’t we read in Deut. 28:7 of those who fear the Lord and keep his covenant:
“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.”
The Lord may be at work doing his will in the world and he may be executing his just and holy purposes in the world at every moment, but it is not easy to see how he is doing such things. Surely, if we have to choose between these two kings in a pitched battle, we expect Amaziah, the king who had kept the law and obeyed the Lord’s prophet, to prevail and not the out and out idolater Jehoash. But, in fact, it is Jehoash who wins the smashing victory, Amaziah is defeated, captured, and deposed from the throne. Indeed, it is Amaziah who speaks like a fool and Jehoash who gives the sage advice. Would that Amaziah had followed it.
What we find in 2 Kings 14, in other words, is the flesh and blood reality so vividly described in biblical books such as Job and Ecclesiastes. The Lord’s plans and purposes are highly complex and often opaque to us. The more righteous man here is the one who is defeated; the more wicked the one who gains the victory. There is no one-to-one relation between righteousness and success. [Leithart, 239] This, in fact, is a constant theme in Scripture, so constant that one wonders what perverse motivations would lead a health and wealth preacher to ignore all this teaching. The righteous suffer; the wicked prosper. We see it all the time. The righteous must also be judged, also disciplined.
How many times are we taught in the Bible and in Kings that life is not predictable and that God’s ways are not mechanical and formulaic? There is much in life that must surprise us and confuse us. The Bible is very honest about that. And here we have examples of that fact.
III. Third, fundamental to any genuinely biblical world view is the effect that sin has upon human reasoning and the hardness of the human heart.
The great new thing in the history reported in 2 Kings 14, the so far unprecedented development is the sacking of Jerusalem, the city of the Lord, by an enemy. What we have here is a prolepsis, an anticipation of what would happen to Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Then not just a long section of the city wall but the entire thing would be torn down. The city would be burned. The temple not simply plundered but destroyed.
Again and again in Kings the Lord warns his people of what must come if they will not return to him in faithfulness, if they will not repent, if they will not trust and obey. The warnings have been made repeatedly by the Lord’s prophets repeating the warnings that were written down from the beginning in the covenant the Lord made with Israel. But not only were warnings repeatedly given.
Foretastes of judgments were also sent as still more powerful reminders of what the Lord had promised to do if his people did not repent. There were, in fact, warnings aplenty, if only anyone would heed them. But no one did then and few do today. It is the great mystery of sin that it blinds a man or woman to what ought to be perfectly obvious. Idolatry was not blessing Israel and Judah. It had diminished them dramatically. They were a pale shadow of what they had been under David and Solomon. Again and again they had suffered the consequences of their unfaithfulness to the Lord and again and again they refused to connect the dots.
And then, according to some prophet’s word, the Lord would give them relief. Jehoash would succeed against Syria and Amaziah against Edom. But rather than draw the obvious conclusion, that the Lord had done this, prophesied it and brought it to pass, they took their victory as somehow proof that they were on the right track and should stay the course. Over and over again a spiritually minded and sensitive reader of Kings wants to wring these kings’ necks. Here is Amaziah, as any reader of Kings would know, a man who had defeated Edom and then brought Edom’s gods back to Jerusalem to worship. “Hello!”
Do you want to know why things go so wrong in the world? Why they so constantly and repeatedly go wrong? Well Kings provides the answer: it is the obduracy of the human mind and heart. There is something mysterious in the power of unbelief to blind a human being to the most obvious facts of life. We see this everywhere we look. The sexual revolution was a blunder of almost indescribable proportions and the evidence of its folly is everywhere we look. We see it in the horrific statistics – unwed mothers, children without fathers, sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, etc. – and in the experience of the lives of so many people that we know. The carnage this revolution has wrought is so obvious that it cannot be denied. But is anyone in our elite culture – the culture that is the equivalent to the royal court in those long ago days of Jehoash and Amaziah – is anyone proposing to admit that a terrible error has been made and we must correct it as quickly and as thoroughly as possible? Hardly! They can’t wait to take the next step down that steep road that leads to the edge of that high cliff over which our society is preparing to hurl itself. This is the momentum of unbelief and it is the story of human life and you will never begin to make sense of the world you live in until you accept this fact. It is why God’s grace must be sovereign, must be wielded by almighty power. Nothing less can break the grip of the lie on the human heart and mind.
I was talking with someone at lunch today. She was telling me of a conversation she had with a friend who claims to be a Christian. It seemed perfectly obvious to this young woman that you need to live with the person before you get married. You need to know whether you are going to like being together. You need to know whether you can succeed in your relationship. Who would think otherwise? The fact that living together reduces your chances of a successful marriage to nearly the vanishing point somehow never registers. The fact that the advice of this culture regarding love and marriage is so patently worthless, given its track record, never registers. The fact that most people remained marriage when no one lived together first never registers.
IV. Fourth, and finally, there is also here in this single piece of history a powerful reminder of the fundamental place of humility in human life, or, perhaps better, how humility is characteristic of true faith.
You may remember Augustine’s famous answer to the question: what are the three most important virtues of the Christian life?” Augustine’s father must have been a real estate agent, because Augustine answered: “humility, humility, humility.”
If you read this chapter from beginning to end, or, at least to the end of the section dealing with Amaziah, what you have is a classic account of pride going before the fall. Amaziah started well. He did enough to prove that he had some loyalty to Yahweh and Yahweh’s law. But one success undid him. He defeated Edom – and Chronicles makes it entirely clear that his victory was God’s doing – and suddenly Amaziah was overtaken by delusions of grandeur.
Get this. Amaziah had rented 100,000 soldiers – probably not literally that many, but a substantial force, perhaps 100 units is meant – from Israel for his war with Edom before the Lord told him to send them home. That amounted to a quarter of his entire force. Israel had that many soldiers to rent to Amaziah. What was the man thinking when he challenged Jehoash to battle? Jehoash was only pointing out the obvious when he reminded Amaziah of the relative strength of both nations and both armies. But Amaziah’s pride had been hurt by the damage done by the marauding Israelite mercenaries on their way home.
He went to war and what was the result of that? Pure and abject humiliation. The story ends with Amaziah defeated, captured, deposed, and replaced by his son, his capital city plundered, a significant number of Jerusalem’s important men carried off as hostages, a huge section of its wall torn down, and Judah under Israel’s thumb. Well done, Amaziah. You thought yourself bigger than you were and the price you and your nation paid for that was for everyone to find out how small you actually were.
How many times and in how many ways does the Lord remind us in his Word:
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Amaziah fell because of his pride and the result was not humility but humiliation, two very different things. “Let he who is standing,” Paul said, “take heed lest he fall.”
What Amaziah should have done was to confess that his victory over the Edomites was Yahweh’s gift to him and then, having learned that lesson, never gone to battle without the express approval of the Lord’s prophets. He should have accepted that it was a mistake to have hired the Israelite soldiers and that the harm they did was, therefore, his own fault. He should have blamed himself, not others.
And then, the Lord having proved his faithfulness to, love for, and power on behalf of his people once again, Amaziah should have gone home with the express purpose of conforming his kingdom’s life and worship to all that was laid down in the Law of God. This he did not do and even his righteousness, such as it was, could not prevent the debacle that was the later years of his life.
What do such lessons, pondered and taken to heart, make of a faithful Christian man or woman? It makes us spiritually minded – what matters in the world, in the final analysis all that matters, is the kingdom of God, his will, his grace, and his power – it makes us reticent to offer explanations for what God is doing in the world, so high are his ways above ours; it makes us knowing and unsurprised regarding the deadening and stupefying effects sin has upon the thinking and reasoning of men; and careful to avoid its dulling, hardening effects in our own hearts; and it makes us conscious of our own smallness, our own dependence upon the mercy and help of God, and conscious of the greatness of the wisdom, goodness, patience, justice and love of God. In the language of the NT, it makes people poor in spirit, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and pure in heart. Jesus Christ was all these things and we are to seek to be like him “Seek first the kingdom” he said; “love not the world or the things of this world,” he said; “come to me you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” he said; “he who has been forgiven much, loves much,” he said; “whoever humbles himself…is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” he said; “what does it profit a person if he or she gain the whole world, but lose his or her soul,” he said; “do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear the one who having killed the body can cast the soul into hell,” he said; and many other things like that. All of that is precisely what we find in 2 Kings 14; we find it there not in dominical sayings, not in the memorable words of our Lord and Savior, but in the personal history of two very foolish men.
Again and again the lesson of Kings is: do not be like this, do not think as they thought or do what they did. Consider the outcome of their ways and learn from them. We cannot be too often reminded to do this!