Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ch.13-14 The Northern Kingdom Hits Rock Bottom! And Then … The Turnaround!

We have spent some time in Yehuda (Athalia and Yoash). Now let us return to the Northern Kingdom – Yisrael. To remind ourselves. We just had the bloody rebellion of Yehu. Now we see the reign of his son Achazyau. Today we shall talk about three kings – all from the north:
- YehoAchaz ben Yehu (17)
- Y(eh)oash (16)
- Yerovam ben Yoash

The main point to be made here is the fact that in these times, the nation suffered from the dominance of Aram under Hazael (as predicted by Elisha.) We know that Hazael was extremely strong because in 12:18-19 we read of his attack on Jerusalem. It would appear that whereas Yehuda managed to fend off Aram, Yisrael was totally dominate by her.

"3 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Aram, and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael, continually… 7 For there was not left to Jehoahaz of the people save fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Aram destroyed them, and made them like the dust in threshing."

Here we witness an awful situation in which Aram allows only 50 cavalry and ten chariots; in other words, he allows a ceremonial guard but essentially insistes on full demilitarisation. And apparently Yisrael are two weak to resist his demands.

This difficult situation continued during the reign of Yehoachaz

"22 And Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz."

But this was the start of the turnaround:

"24 And Hazael king of Aram died; and Ben-hadad his son reigned in his stead. 25 And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again out of the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael the cities which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war. Three times did Joash smite him, and recovered the cities of Israel. {P}"

Apparently the new king is unsuccessful in leading Aram. Now Yehoash begins to regain
Some control, and even regains territory that has been taken from Yisrael.

In the reign of Yehoash's son, Yerovam, things improve further:

"25 He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath unto the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke by the hand of His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher."

In other words, in Yerovam's time, Israel controls Aram!


Now, we may ask – what caused this turnaround? Obviously the Historian will point to the change of king in Aram, and yet, we know that Sefer Melachim is a spiritual book, not a book of political-military History. This is a book of Nevuah! It gives us God's commentary on the Historical events. The thesis of Sefer Melachim is clear. Sin breeds war, poverty, defeat, invasion, the fall of kings, and the exile of nations. Keeping the Torah and remaining committed and devoted to God stimulates economic prosperity, peace and calm, and a nation state in which Israel can live normally.

So if I see a turnaround of this sort – from foreign control, and military defeat to peace and prosperity, I would imagine that a process of Teshuva had taken place. That am Yisrael had engaged in radical soul-searching or something. This was not the case.

A different process was underway. See these pesukim:

13:4 And Jehoahaz besought the LORD, and the LORD hearkened unto him; for He saw the oppression of Israel, how that the king of Aram oppressed them.-- 5 And the LORD gave Israel a deliverer, so that they went out from under the hand of the Arameans; and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents, as beforetime

13:22 And Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the LORD was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither hath He cast them from His presence until now.

14:23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned forty and one years. 24 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD; he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath unto the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke by the hand of His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. 26 For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter; for there was none shut up nor left at large, neither was there any helper for Israel. 27 And the LORD said not that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven; but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

Here let me focus upon TWO features of this phenomenon.


In these stories we do NOT see Teshuva. Yehoachaz beseeches God, but we fail to see the eradication of Avoda Zara in his time – passuk 6 tells us that the Ashera stood in Shomron at that time!

Likewise with Yerovam ben Yoash. The Tanach describes his "evil". He makes no strides to abandon the pagan culture of the Northern Kingdom.

So why does God assist? Why does he rescue Yisrael?

With YohoAchaz, "the Lord hearkens to him." Why? "for He saw the oppression of Israel." Am Yisrael is in such a sorry state, so pathetic and helpless, that God restores a state of national normalcy. Not because we deserve it!. It is simply because God cares.

God saves us because he sees that Am Yisrael are on the brink of disaster, the brink of exile and decimation. He wants to give us a "last chance". It is not our good deeds, but God's mercy, the power of His relationship with Israel - "that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven" - that saved us. It was the covenant of the Avot – the Historic legacy of Am Yisrael that allow God to grant us a reprieve despite the fact the we didn't deserve it.

But God's patience, his caring and mercy do not last forever.

When the passuk refers to God not "blotting out" the name of Israel, it is true! We should realise that after the reign of Yerovam ben Yoash, the Northern Kingdom is quickly dominated by Ashur-Assyria and destroyed, exiled. This really is the last chance! God is very patient. But even God's patience runs out at a certain point.

And this brings us to our second point.


In this section, as we read of the reversal of fortunes of the Northern Kingdom, we are informed, not once, but twice that this process of national rehabilitation is being chaperoned by a prophet.

With Yerovam (14:23), we read of the prophecy of a certain Yona Ben Amitai (maybe the very same Yona as Sefer Yona) who predicted Israel's return to independence and its control over Aram.

Earlier on, in Chapter 13, we read of Yoash's visit to the great Prophet Elisha as he lies on his death bed[1]. And in this meeting, Yoash is given a message[2] of the victory of Israel against Aram.

Why do we see Elisha and Yona heralding the victory of Israel?

I think that this relates directly to our earlier observation. Spiritually Am Yisrael are at an all time low. God has predicted that the kingdom will rise once more breaking the shackles of Aramean control and dominance.

How will the king, the nation relate to these victories, this upturn in the national fortune? Is a fluke, a chance political occurrence? As a gift from Baal and Ashera? What will be the effect of this turnabout in the national situation? Will it lead people to appreciate God? Their fellow man? Will it lead to an increase in standard of living along with hedonism, corruption, materialism, continued abuse of the poor? Or will people use the gifts of wealth, calm and security to better the ills of society?

The role of the prophets is to realise that these gifts are from God. They are not a product of the winds of chance. And if they are God-decreed, even though the nation is far from deserving God's kindness, then maybe, just maybe, it might generate a positive reaction from the nation. Possibly the carrot will work instead of the stick; the good times as heralded by the prophet will draw people closer to God.


And so, we have charted the fall and rise of the Northern Kingdom. We have discovered that this is undeserved; an expression of the God-Israel relationship and God's beneficence. And we have understood that the prophet was designated to accompany these events in order to assist the people to interpret the events around them, to understand the ways for God, his love for Israel and his great mercy.

[1] There is a certain poetic irony here, as Elisha visited Ben Hadad as he was on his death bed. That lead to Hazael's rise to power. Now on Elisha's death-bed, he predicts Aram (Hazael)'s decline and fall.

[2] In typical prophetic style, the message is delivered via a figurative/symbolic act. More about this in our next post.