Melachim Bet

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ch.14 part 2 - The complicated story of Amatzia

אמציה בן יואש מלך יהודה

Amatzia is certainly a puzzling personality.

When we look at Sefer Melachim, Amazia appears to be loyal to God, and successful in conquering Edom.

But there is another story. He makes a disastrous military advance against Yisrael, attacking what seems to be a far stronger kingdom (Yeshuda = the thistle; Yisrael = the Cedar see 14:9.) He loses the battle, allowing Jerusalem to be attacked, penetrated and looted. And he pays for his lack of judgement by his own death - he is assassinated.

In Divrei Hayamim (ch.25) , the story is even more complicated and ambiguous, although some aspects of the story are given greater shape.

1. One thing that IS explained is the source of the tension between Yehuda and Yisrael. In other words, Divrei Hayamin explains how relations deteriorated between teh south and the North.

When Amatzia went to war against Edom, he hired 100,000 mercenary soldiers from the Northern Kingdom – Yisrael. However, the Navi instructed him to let them go, to "fire" them. Why? Maybe because he already has a sizeable force and it is enough might. There are many sources in Tanach where God reduces the size of the fighting force in order that the king not think that all victory is based upon human initiative. Alternatively, God wishes to censure an association with Yisrael. In the past any friendship with Yisrael has resulted in teh spiritual collapse of Yehuda. Better to be friends from afar! Indeed, Amatzia listens to the Navi! He sends the troops home. Now clearly this is very commendable. In addition, when Amatzia expresses his concern as to the wasted money- after all, he has paid a great sum of money to hire 100,00 soldiers - the prophet reassures him that God will more than recompense the loss.

However, on their way home, these soldiers, insulted by the rejection, take out their frustration and insult upon the cities of Yehuda killing 3000 people and pillaged widely. Clearly an ifraction of this sort upon the sovereignty and security of Yehuda cannot go without some response. And hence the seeds of conflict are sown.

This explains the tension with Yisrael.

But how is it that Amatzia declares war with Yisrael? For the past century, there has been peace and harmony between the two kingdoms! Does Amatzia not realise the enormous cost of engaging in internal (civil) warfare? Why does he actually take it to an armed conflict?

2. Amatzia demonstrates unusual cruelty as he seems to throw 10,000 Edomite soldiers off a cliff! (25:12) - and this, after he is already victorious. He gains nothing strategically from this act. Now, this action is a stratling contrast to his compassion to the children of his father's assassins – (see the previous post!) Is Amatzia hard-hearted or is he generous and kind.

3. Religion. On the one hand, Amatzia listens to the Navi even though it will cost him dearly (see above).
On the other hand, Divrei Hayamim (II:25) reports that Amatzia returned from the Edomite conquest with gods of Edom as his trophy and he began to serve them. Idolatry!

When the Navi rebukes him, the King suggests to him that it is in his best interests to remain silent. In other words, he is threatening the Navi!

And hence a king who pays a great price for listening to God (in rejecting the 100,000 northern troops,) now fails to accept the Navi, and indeed succumbs to the temptations of ignoring the Navi and rejecting him.

So who is Amatzia? Is he God-fearing or idolatrous? Callous or kind? How do we reconcile these contradictory tendencies, these personality swings?

DAAT MIKRA (DM) distinguishes between two periods.
BEFORE the campaign against Edom, Amatzia listens to the Navi, follows God, demonstrates compassion, seeks unity.
AFTER the campaign we see idolatry, rejection of the prophet and ambitious bombastic war campaigns.

One wonders why that war against Edom changed him so much? What was the couse?

(DM also points out the similarities between Yoash, his father, and Amatzia whereby Amatzia, like Yoash, starts loyal to God and the Kohein/Navi. And then, in later life, rejects Him and His laws. They both get assassinated!)

Rav Yigal Ariel (מקדש מלך) suggests that since we are in a geo-political power vacuum – Aram is not particularly powerful, there is no Ashur yet etc. - and these circumstances create a power scarmble. Where there is no superpower, there is room for smaller states to fill the void. Now every nation looks to capitalise where he can. A weak monarch is fearful of invasion, of his own neighbours. Aspiring kingdoms will prey upon weaker neighbours to expand their power base and their wealth and security. This is an environment in which one is vulnerable., especially if you are a weak leader.

Amatzia is a weak leader (see his war record!) He could turn to God and thereby ask God to keep him secure and independent, and this he does at the start. He could retain a low profile, an attitude generally recommended by the prophets. But in the middle of his reignhe makes a policy decision to secure his position by acting as a power-broker. Part of this might even be his hiring of foreign forces. He wishes to be the one that calls teh shots in the region. He wants to demonstrate his own, power, to flex his muscles. He attcks Edom. And tries to send a message regarding his strength and resolve by killing 10,00 troops with great cruelty. He is trying to build a reputation. It would appear that this activity is so incongruous with a Jewish world-view that he seeks another "address" religiously, a god who will back his meglomania, his desire to seek security via conquest and attack. This might also be his motivation in demonstrating that he will not be insulted or humiliated as he attacks the Northern Kingdom, Yisrael. He feels a need to exhibit strenth. But in the final event, he fails at this. He is weak inside. It is all a pose. In the end it is a catalyst for his downfall.