Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE TITLE HE HAD TO THE THRONE. The son of Joash, most likely the eldest. His mother's name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. Whether she, like her husband, had declined into idolatry cannot be told.
II. THE REIGN HE ENJOYED ON THE THRONE. Twenty-nine years - eleven years less than his father reigned. Eighteen years older than Joash when he obtained the crown, he was only seven years older when he put it off. Clearly idolatry in those days was not conducive to longevity.
III. THE CHARACTER HE MAINTAINED ON THE THRONE. Mixed.
1. Good. "He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord," as his father did while Jehoiada lived (2 Chronicles 24:2); i.e. he abandoned idolatry and became a worshipper of Jehovah.
2. Not perfect. "Not with a perfect heart," as it should have been (1 Kings 8:61), after the examples of Asa (2 Chronicles 15:17; 1 Kings 15:14) and David (2 Kings 14:3; Psalm 101:2). His return to the worship of Jehovah was probably
(1) dictated by fear, occasioned by the recollection of his father's untimely and violent death; hence
(2) deficient in extent, the high places not being removed (2 Kings 14:4); and
(3) destitute of permanence - in fact, dropped when he felt himself secure upon his throne (ver. 14).
IV. THE ACTS HE PERFORMED FROM THE THRONE. Two.
1. A deed of vengeance. "He slew his servants that had killed the king his father."
(1) Justice demanded this. If his father deserved to die, which seems indisputable, it is not clear that Zabad and Jehozabad had a right to be his executioners.
(2) Filial piety approved this. Under the Law it was the next kinsman's duty to avenge the blood of a slain relative (Deuteronomy 19:12). Amaziah would have proved himself an unnatural son had he spared any longer than he could help the assassins of his father.
(3) Prudence recommended this. Doubtless Amasiah feared that some day the fate of Joash would be his, if these men lived.
2. An exercise of clemency. "He slew not their children."
(1) Considering what the Law of Moses said (Deuteronomy 24:16), this was right;
(2) remembering the universal practice of the Orient, it was merciful;
(3) if they were young children when the wicked deed was done, it was humane as well as right.
1. The vanity of earthly glory - even kings must die.
2. The imperfection of human goodness - the best of men but men at the best.
3. The impossibility of escaping for ever the due reward of one's evil deeds, except by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
4. The beauty of clemency in all, but especially in kings. "Earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice" ('Merchant of Venice,' act 4. sc. 1). - W.
but he has something in him which makes him much less condemnable than he would otherwise be. Unfortunately, goodness also is often qualified; of the man concerning whom we have much to say in praise there is something serious to say by way of detraction. Of every good man there may be something to record which is not favourable; but the qualification may be so slight that it is the mere "dust in the balance." Too often it has to be "written in heaven," and perhaps upon earth also, that he "did what was right, but not with a perfect heart." There are some -
I. DISCERNIBLE DEFICIENCIES IN CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. One Christian man is blameless in behaviour so far as the main features of morality are concerned, but he is so reserved and reticent, so unapproachable, that he exerts but very little influence. Another is very ardent and enthusiastic in the cause of Christ, very open-hearted and open-handed, but he is very irritable and ill-tempered, so that he is avoided or even disliked. A third is very tender and sympathetic in spirit, with a ready ear and an unselfish consideration for every tale of difficulty or distress, but he is very weak, pliant, credulous; no one can attach any weight to his judgment. A fourth is possessed of many of the virtues and graces of Christian character, but he is very weak in some one direction, much too open to temptation of one particular kind, and his friends are always apprehensive lest he should succumb, and fall quite seriously. These are defects
(1) to be pointed out by friends, and to be recognized frankly by those who are the subjects of them;
(2) to be carefully, conscientiously, devoutly corrected and removed, lest the "gospel of Christ be hindered," lest the Master himself be displeased and dishonoured. But there are -
II. MORE SERIOUS INCONSISTENCIES.
1. In Christian life. It may be that one who has considered himself, and who has been considered, a true disciple of Jesus Christ, falls back, falls down
(1) into condemnable self-indulgence; or
(2) into an arrogance of spirit and haughtiness of bearing which are as hateful to men as (we know) they are offensive to God; or
(3) into a lightness and irreverence of tone which cannot fail to be as displeasing to Christ as it is painful to the devout and earnest-minded among men; or
(4) into a serious selfishness of soul which has no eye for anything but its own personal and passing interests.
2. In Christian work. It may be that one who has shown much earnestness in the field of sacred usefulness, either
(1) loses all interest in that for which he once thought much and laboured hard, or
(2) becomes so opinionated and so peremptory that no one can co-operate with him, and he has to be left alone. He is practically disabled by his self-assertiveness. Now, there is too often found to be -
III. ONE SUPREME MISTAKE. It is that which was probably committed by Amaziah, viz. that of never yielding ourselves thoroughly to the service of God. It is likely that the King of Judah only gave half an heart to the worship of Jehovah; that his piety was superficial, formal, constrained, essentially and radically imperfect; that he was like the young man of the Gospel narrative, who had "kept the commandments from his youth up," but who was never so thoroughly in earnest as to be ready to give up everything to attain eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). If we do not yield ourselves wholly to our Divine Saviour, we shall find, as we pursue our way, that at some important crisis our obedience will be at fault; or our devotion will fail; or our character will be blemished, and our reputation will break down; or we shall leave the field and lose our reward (2 John 1:8). Therefore:
1. Let us realize how great, how supreme, how prevailing, are the claims of our Divine Redeemer.
2. Let us offer our hearts and lives to him in full and glad self-surrender. Then shall it not be written of us, that "we did right, but not with a perfect heart." - C.
I. THE LIMITATIONS TO THE VALUE OF GOLD. Gold serves many useful purposes; through it we can secure the necessaries and the comforts of life, the conditions of education, the advantages of good society; but its power is very limited, after all.
1. Its possession, so far from ensuring happiness, often entails much burdensomeness, and always imposes a heavy responsibility.
2. Its tenure is slight and short; an accident or a revolution, impossible to foresee, may take it suddenly away, and at death it must be relinquished.
3. It is wholly powerless in the presence of some of the sadder and graver evils of our life.
4. It tempts to indolence and indulgence, and it may be doubted whether it does not spoil more lives than it brightens and blesses.
II. THE BOUNDLESS BLESSEDNESS OF THE FAVOUR OF GOD. The Lord was not only able to give Amaziah "much more than this," much more than "a hundred talents of silver," but he was able to bless him in ways which were incomparably superior to such material enrichment. And so is he able and most willing to bless us. Willingly should we part with gold and silver at his bidding, to be true and loyal disciples to our Master, to preserve our spiritual integrity; for if we do this "for Christ's sake and the gospel's" (Mark 8:35) there will be for us ample and most abundant compensation for what we lose.
1. The peace of God, which passes understanding, and which surpasses all material values.
2. The positive and active friendship of our Lord, and of the good and true.
3. A life of noble and fruitful service.
4. A death of hope.
5. A future of immortal glory. In view of these things, we need not be greatly concerned about the less of a hundred or a thousand talents. - C.
I. WARLIKE PREPARATIONS. (Vers. 5, 6.)
1. The army mustered. "Amaziah gathered Judah together;" i.e. collected for review, probably in Jerusalem, all in the southern kingdom who were capable of bearing arms.
2. The army organized. "He made them captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, according to the houses of their fathers, throughout all Judah and Benjamin." Compare Samuel's prediction (1 Samuel 8:12), and Moses' practice (Numbers 31:14; Deuteronomy 1:15). Order and subordination indispensable to the efficiency of a host. Since the days of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 23:1; 2 Kings 11:15) the army had probably become disorganized.
3. The army numbered. "And he numbered them from twenty years old and above, and found them three hundred thousand choice men - a considerably smaller force than Asa led out against Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:8), or than Jehoshaphat possessed (2 Chronicles 17:14-18). The explanation is, either that only the flower of Amaziah's troops, the picked men of the army, were numbered, or the force had been diminished by the disastrous wars of the preceding reigns. What is next stated renders this probable.
4. The army increased. "He hired also an hundred thousand mighty men of valour out of Israel for an hundred talents of silver" (£50,000, if the talent be valued at £500).
II. PROPHETIC WARNINGS. (Vers. 7, 8.) The prophet's name is not given, but his admonition is:
1. A dissuasive. Against allowing Israel to accompany the army of Judah to battle. If the king's recollection of former alliances with the northern kingdom did not remind him of the unadvisedness of the course he was contemplating (2 Chronicles 18:28; 2 Chronicles 20:35; 2 Chronicles 22:5; 1 Kings 22:29; 2 Kings 3:7), the earnestness of Jehovah's messenger might have startled him.
2. A reason. Jehovah was not with Israel, not with any of the sons of Ephraim, because of their defection into idolatry. What had been true of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:5), what had been threatened to Asa (2 Chronicles 15:2), what had been the case with Judah in the previous reign (2 Chronicles 24:20), was the habitual and seemingly permanent condition of the northern people. They had forsaken God, and he had in turn forsaken them. To seek the help of Israel, therefore, was to seek help in a quarter where no help was, rather whence hurt alone could proceed. It is hardly doubtful that the people of God err in asking the assistance of God's enemies for their schemes, whether those schemes be material such as church-building, or spiritual such as propagating the gospel, and whether that aid be in the form of money, influence, or men. The Jews who returned from Babylon would not accept assistance from the Samaritans in building their temple (Ezra 4:3). Should the Church of Jesus Christ accept the aid of the unbelieving world?
3. An alternative, or an exhortation. "If thou wilt go [i.e. with these northern allies], then go, do valiantly, be strong for the battle," i.e. do your best - the language of irony; or, according to another rendering (Ewald, Bertheau, Keil), "If thou wilt go, go alone, do valiantly, be strong for the battle" But in this case the force of the first clause is lost, as there was no question as to "going" or "not going" put before Amaziah, but merely as to "going with" or "without Israel."
4. A threatening or a promise. "God shall cast thee down before the enemy," or "God shall (not) cast thee down before the enemy," the word "not" being supplied. If Amaziah went depending on the assistance of his mercenaries, he would lose the battle; if he left them behind and went forth with only his own forces, he would prove victorious. The great lesson Jehovah was constantly, by means of his prophets (Isaiah 26:3, 4; Isaiah 57:13; Jeremiah 39:18; Jeremiah 42:11; Nahum 1:7) and the events of his providence, striving to impress upon Israel and Judah was that of exclusive reliance upon himself, as the only means of ensuring their safety and continued prosperity (2 Chronicles 20:20); the same lesson is urgently required by Christians (Romans 15:13; Ephesians 2:8).
5. An argument. "God hath power to help or to cast down" - to help his people without allies, as he helped Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:22), Asa (2 Chronicles 14:12), and Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:15); or to cast down his people, even in spite of allies, as he did formerly with Joash (2 Chronicles 24:24), with Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:36), and with Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 13:9), and afterwards with Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:16-19).
III. KINGLY EXCUSES. (Ver. 9.)
1. Proposed. Amaziah felt a difficulty about complying with the prophet's counsel. He might send back his allies to Joash in Jezreel or Samaria; but what about his talents? These his royal brother would not be likely to return. He might go to battle without his hired troops, but who would give him his silver moneys? One hundred talents was a large sum to lose even for a king. Amaziah was of Shylock's mind, "You take my house when you do take the prop that doth sustain my house" ('Merchant of Venice,' act 4. sc. 1). Like the Jew who lamented more over the loss of his ducats - his "Christian ducats," "a sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, of double ducats... and jewels" - than the flight of his daughter, Amaziah mourned less the idea of parting with his mercenaries than the fact that they would carry with them his precious talents.
2. Answered. The man of God might have replied
(1) that even if he kept his allies his hundred talents were lost, while he would certainly lose the battle in addition; or
(2) that if he parted with his hirelings he would prove victorious, which would more than compensate for the loss of his talents; but the man of God responded
(3) that Jehovah, if he pleased, could give him much more than a hundred talents. He said not, indeed, that Jehovah would give him more than he would lose, because considerations of money do not enter into questions of right and wrong. The moral quality of an action is not determined by its financial results. Simply the prophet stated that Jehovah could give the king much more than a hundred talents, which was true, since the silver and the gold were his (1 Chronicles 29:11, 12; Haggai 2:8), and he gave them to whomsoever he would (Proverbs 30:8; Ecclesiastes 5:19; Psalm 127:1, 2).
IV. FIELD OPERATIONS. (Vers. 10-12.)
1. The dismissal of the mercenaries. The army out of Ephraim was separated from his own troops and sent home to Israel. Whether the king, in discharging them, was actuated by cupidity, the desire of getting back his talents with interest, or by fear, the dread of losing the battle, - the step he took was right, being such as the man of God demanded, prudent as the issue of the campaign showed, and bold as the situation required. It was certain to excite the ire of the northern warriors, and according to the Chronicler it did: "they returned home in fierce anger." Well-doing on the part of good men may stir the wrath of others, to whom it may at times appear insulting; nevertheless, the path of duty must be adhered to, though it should lead to the estrangement of friends no less than to the loss of ducats.
2. The advance of the army of Judah. Amaziah took courage, added to his faith fortitude, as Christians are exhorted to do in the campaign of life (2 Peter 1:5), and led his forces out with no ally but Jehovah, as far as the Valley of Salt (2 Samuel 8:13; 1 Chronicles 18:12) - a plain about two miles broad, south of the Dead Sea, absolutely devoid of vegetation, now called El-Ghor (Robinson). There he encountered the Edomites, or children of Mount Seir, who had revolted from Judah in the days of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:8; 2 Kings 8:20), and whose subjugation was the object of the present campaign.
3. The defeat of the Edomites.
(1) The destruction of their army. Ten thousand soldiers were killed, ten thousand prisoners taken.
(2) The capture of their capital. Selah, "Rock" (Isaiah 16:1), the well-known Petra or Rock city, was taken, and its name changed to Joktheel, or "conquered by God" (2 Kings 14:7). This remarkable city was situated in a valley (Es Sik, "the cleft;" called by the Arabs Wady Musa) running from north to south, about three quarters of a mile long, and enclosed on all sides by precipitous sandstone rocks of variegated hues, rising in some parts to a height of eight hundred or a thousand feet. (For a description of Petra, see Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 87, etc.; 'Picturesque Palestine,' vol. 3. pp. 214, etc.; 'Forty Days in the Desert,' p. 128.)
(3) The slaughter of their people. If Amaziah's prisoners were hurled from the cliffs of Petra, their death must have been simply appalling.
V. UNFRIENDLY RETALIATONS. (Ver. 13.)
1. By whom.? The soldiers of the Israelitish army sent back by Amaziah. The Samaritans, whose aid Zerubbabel declined, "weakened the hands of the people of Judah and troubled them in building" (Ezra 4:4); and the unbelieving world would oppose, harass, and hinder the Church of Christ even more than it does, were it separated as it should be from the Church's midst (John 15:19). But better the world's opposition, hatred, and revenge, with God's help, favour, and blessing, than the world's co-operation, friendship, and approbation, with God's displeasure, withdrawal, and antagonism.
2. For what? For not being allowed to go to battle with Judah against Edom. An insufficient cause, since they lost nothing of their pay, while they saved their lives. Their honour, it may be supposed, was wounded; and the world holds a wound to one's honour to be a greater stroke than a buffet to one's person or a loss to one's purse. But Christ's followers ought not to take their code of morals from the world!
3. On whom? The cities of Judah and their inhabitants, from Samaria unto Beth-horon, now Beit-Ur (2 Chronicles 8:5). Though these had no part in the offence, they must nevertheless share in the penalty. If Amaziah had done the soldiers wrong, Amaziah should have given them redress in his own person. But nations have hardly yet learnt to discriminate between offending sovereigns and offenceless subjects, When those quarrel they can only heal their friends by setting these to cut each other's throats or blow each other into eternity by means of guns and cannons!
4. How far? To the taking of three thousand men and much spoil. Whether this devastation of the northern cities of Judah occurred while the Israelitish soldiers were returning home to Samaria, or, as seems more likely, when Amaziah was in Edom (Bertheau, Keil), is uncertain; that it subsequently led to a war between the two kingdoms is undoubted. Learn:
1. The folly of entering on any enterprise in which God cannot aid.
2. The sin of resorting to means of which Heaven cannot approve.
3. The sufficiency of God's help without creature-aids.
4. The duty of withdrawing from wicked schemes, even though doing so should entail financial loss.
5. The impossibility of settling questions of right and wrong by calculations of profit and loss.
6. The insignificance of money loss as compared with loss of Divine help and favour.
7. The immense indebtedness of the world to Christianity, even while rejecting it. - W.
I. THE NATURE OF IT. A subsidence into idolatry. On returning from the slaughter of the Edomites he brought with him the gods of the children of Seir, and, setting them up to be his gods, bowed down him- self before them and burned incense unto them (ver. 14). That the Seirites were idolaters is confirmed by Moses, who gives Baal-hanan, "Baal is gracious," as one of their kings (Genesis 36:38); by Josephus, who mentions that the Idumaeans had a god named Kotze ('Ant.,' 15:7. 9); and by the Assyrian inscriptions, which show that one of their sovereigns bore the designation Kaus-malaka, i.e. "Kaus or Kotze is king" (Schrader, 'Keilinschriften,' p. 150).
II. THE MOTIVE OF IT. Probably political, to enable him to complete the subjugation of the Seirites, which, as he imagined, could be best done by winning over their gods to his side (Keil). Compare the conduct of Ahaz in sacrificing to the gods of Damascus in order to obtain their assistance (2 Chronicles 28:23), and of Cyrus in asking the Babylonian divinities to intercede with Bel and Nebo on his behalf (Sayce, 'Fresh Light,' etc., p. 175). At the same time, Amaziah's idolatry just as likely had its roots in inherent depravity. If Joash fell away to Baal (2 Chronicles 24:18), it is hardly surprising that Amaziah his son should have followed his example. The fallen heart gravitates towards polytheism, as the history of mankind - of Jews, Egyptians, Assyrians, Phoenicians Ñ shows. Almost all nations in their infancy were monotheists.
III. THE CRIMINALITY OF IT. Arising from the time when this declension took place. To have lapsed into idolatry at any time would have been wicked - contrary to the express commandment of Jehovah (Exodus 20:3, 4); to do so immediately after having enjoyed such a signal display of Jehovah's kindness in granting him a splendid victory over his enemies - to select that moment for his apostasy was surely adding insult to injury; to say the least, was to be guilty of monstrous ingratitude as well as open sin.
IV. THE FOLLY OF IT. Seen in the impotence of the idols to whom he bowed. The Edomite gods had not been able to save their devotees, the Seirites: where was the guarantee they could assist Amaziah? One wonders that idolaters do not see the absurdity of praying to divinities that cannot save (Isaiah 45:20). The utter helplessness of idols and the senselessness of such as trust in them are themes of frequent illustration in Scripture (Psalm 115:4-8; Isaiah 46:1-6; Jeremiah 2:28; Jeremiah 10:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4).
V. THE DANGER OF IT.
1. It aroused against the king Jehovah's anger. The one living and true God can tolerate no rival claimant of man's homage. The worship of two gods, besides being impossible (Matthew 6:24; 1 Corinthians 6:16), is provocative of wrath (Leviticus 26:30; Deuteronomy 27:15; Psalm 16:4; Psalm 79:6; Isaiah 42:17).
2. It drew down upon him a prophet's rebuke. The man of God said unto him, "Why hast thou sought after the gods of the people," etc.? The censures of the good may be profitable, but are rarely pleasant. Their judgments, besides, when calmly given, are an index to God's mind concerning man's conduct.
3. It excited the king's own evil disposition. Had Amaziah not been a backslider, he would not have answered the prophet so churlishly as he did, practically telling him that nobody asked his opinion, and that if he valued his own skin he had better hold his peace. It was easy, but neither valiant nor right, for a king thus to insult or silence Jehovah's messenger; he would, by-and-by, find it harder to deal in such fashion with Jehovah himself. "Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: reprove a wise man, and he will love thee" (Proverbs 9:8). Amaziah's conduct showed he was a fool (Proverbs 13:1) - one of those that "hate him who reproveth in the gate" (Amos 5:10).
4. It foreshadowed his ultimate fall. It revealed to the prophet that God had determined to destroy him - more especially when it was followed by obstinate refusal of the Divine warning. It is a bad sign when faithful admonition is followed by the hardening rather than the softening of the admonished - when it confirms in sin rather than leads to repentance. Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat. "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1). Learn:
1. The danger of prosperity in turning away the heart from God.
2. The need of constantly guarding against temptation.
3. The complete absurdity of idolatry.
4. The certainty that idol-worshippers and idol-worship shall perish. - W.
I. THE INFATUATION OF IDOLATRY. What insensate folly of the King of Judah to turn from the service of Jehovah, who had just granted him a signal proof of his power and his goodness, to the service and the worship of the gods of the very people he had defeated (ver. 14)! Well might he be reproached for conduct so culpable and so irrational. Any one who was conversant with the history of the Hebrew people, even up to this time, might have known that faithfulness to Jehovah was accompanied by victory and prosperity, and that, contrariwise, idolatry was attended with misery and disaster. And yet, such was "the deceitfulness of sin," we find king and courtier, priest and people, lapsing into disobedience and iniquity. We are not now under the temptation which proved too strong for Amaziah, but we may make a mistake as serious and as senseless as he made.
II. THE FOLLY OF IRRELIGION, AND ESPECIALLY OF SPIRITUAL UNFAITHFULNESS. For what is it that we see?
1. A large number of men and women honouring various false gods; it is some form of temporal success; it may be physical enjoyment, or it may be the possession of wealth, or it may be social position, or it may be political power, or it may be professional distinction.
2. These votaries are not blessed by the deities they are serving; for these "powers" are weakness itself; they "cannot. deliver their own people," their own adherents. They do not deliver them from failure, from disappointment, from heartache, from misery. They do not gladden the heart and brighten and beautify the life of those who are seeking and serving them. Even those who have reached the heights they set themselves to climb, who have grasped the goal towards which they ran, have confessed, again and again, that they have not found rest unto their soul, but rather disquietude, craving, envy - a sense of dreariness and defeat. Why, then, should we add our souls to the number of the unblessed, of the deceived and the betrayed? Why, indeed, should we who have tasted of better things be so indescribably foolish as to abandon "our Rock" for "their rock" (Deuteronomy 32:31)? Why should we seek after the "gods that cannot deliver their own people"? And this folly is the greater when we take into our account -
III. THE PROVED WISDOM OF PIETY. For has it not been abundantly confirmed that "godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come"? Do not we who have followed Christ know, and can we not testify, that to be his true disciple, his faithful servant - this is to be:
1. Gladdened with all joy.
2. Comforted in all sorrow.
3. Enlarged in all obscurity and lowliness of sphere.
4. Engaged in the best and noblest of all works - the work of human elevation.
5. Sustained by the most exalted hope - the hope of everlasting life in his own royal presence. - C.
I. IT MAY BE BEGOTTEN OF A SLIGHT SUCCESS. "Thou hast smitten the Edomites and thy heart lifteth thee up to boast" (ver. 19). Some men are soon inflated; even a little "knowledge puffeth up." And a very slight achievement, in art, or in song, or in speech, or in manufacture, is enough to fill them with vanity, to cause them to "think more highly of themselves than they ought to think," to make them presume upon an ability which they are far from possessing. Complacency is an element which soon rises to the surface in human nature; it takes a very slight touch to stir it.
II. IT MAY BEGET A SINFUL SCORNFULNESS. On this occasion the presumption of Amaziah provoked the contemptuous answer of Joash (ver. 18). There is something very unbeautiful and unbecoming in human scorn. Derision is a rather frequent action, and those who employ it take great pride in it. But we may be sure that it is offensive in the sight of the Lord of love. We may pity, we may condemn, we may reproach one another, rightly and faithfully. But to pour out on one another the spittle of our scorn, - this is an unworthy, an ungodly, a blameful thing. Joash no doubt felt a keen satisfaction in his reference to the cedar and the thistle, and sent his message with enjoyment; but the Father of spirits would be grieved to see one of his children thus treating another with withering contempt. Scorn may be a pleasant thing, but it is a sinful thing.
III. IT SUFFERS AN HUMILIATING DEFEAT, (Vers. 21, 22.) Failure and humiliation are the inevitable end of human presumption. It is certain in time to undertake some task too great for its strength, to go up to a battle against a foe which it cannot fight and we know what will be the issue. Whatever the field may be - whether political, commercial, literary, ecclesiastical, social - the man of presumptuous spirit is on his way to an ignominious defeat. He will attempt the leap which he cannot make, and he will come down heavily to the ground.
IV. IT ENDURES OTHER PENALTIES BESIDES. In the case of Joash it meant, beside defeat, captivity, the violation of the capital, and the spoliation of the temple, the miseries of remorse as he pondered in his palace. How senselessly he had brought this calamity on himself (see ver. 15)! Presumption is sure to result in adversity of more kinds than one. It ends in the bitter mortification of defeat, of conscious overthrow and dishonour; it usually ends (as here) in loss, either of property, or of reputation, or of friendship - perhaps of all of these at the same time. It frequently brings down upon a man the severe reproaches of those who have been injured along with the principal offender. For guilt of this kind commonly involves misery to many beside the criminal. It is Jerusalem, and even Judah, as well as Amaziah, on whom the blow comes down.
1. Let us know ourselves well, lest we make an egregious and fatal mistake.
2. Let us ask God to reveal our feebleness to our own eyes. - C.
I. THE OBJECT OF THE BATTLE.
1. The object of its promoter, Amaziah.
(1) Perhaps revenge; to punish the Israelitish sovereign for the sins of his subjects (ver. 13) - a principle of action on which man cannot always with safety proceed, though God may. Revenge, sweet to the natural heart (Jeremiah 20:10), was forbidden under the Law (Leviticus 19:17, 18), and is absolutely inconsistent with the gospel (Romans 12:19). "Men revenge themselves out of weakness because they are offended, because they are too much influenced by self-love." This was seemingly the case with Amaziah. "A great soul overlooks and despises injuries; a soul enlightened by grace and faith leaves the judgment and revenge of them to God" (Cruden).
(2) Possibly ambition; in the hope of reducing the northern kingdom to subjection. In this hope (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 9:9. 2) he was probably confirmed by his previous success over the Edomites (ver. 14). Ambition, easily excited in the breasts of the weak, is always difficult to allay even by the wills of the strong. Wherever it exists, it is like the horse-leech's two daughters, which cry, "Give, give!" like the grave and the barren womb, the dry earth and the fire, which never say, "It is enough" (Proverbs 30:15, 16). It commonly proves too imperious even for men of iron will, while weaklings like Amaziah it blows to destruction with a slight puff.
2. The object of its Director, God. If Amaziah had an aim in seeking a pitched battle with Joash King of Israel, so had Jehovah an aim in allowing him and Joash to try conclusions on the field of war. If Amaziah meant to punish Joash, Jehovah meant to punish Amaziah: which of the two, the King of Judah or the King of kings, was the more likely to succeed in accomplishing his object, it required no prophet to foretell. So in mundane affairs, generally, "man proposes," but "God disposes." Men, as free agents, are allowed to scheme and plan as they please, while God worketh all things according to the counsel of his will Man often fails in his purposes, Jehovah never (Job 23:13; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:10, 11; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11).
II. THE PRELIMINARIES TO THE BATTLE.
1. Amaziah's challenge to Joash.
(1) Deliberately offered. He acted neither in a hurry nor on his own responsibility, but at leisure and after consultation with his privy councillors and field-marshals. This only made the matter worse. It shows what wretched advisers the king had, and how set the king's heart was upon the war. Jehoshaphat had been too late in calling in Jehovah to the council of war at Samaria (2 Chronicles 18:4); Amaziah neglected calling him in at all. The last persons a king or parliament should apply to for advice when deliberating on the question of peace or war, are the idlers about court and the officers in a barracks.
(2) Arrogantly expressed. Euphemistically phrased, "Come, let us look one another in the face," meaning "Come, let us measure strength," or "cross swords with one another;" this is one of those hypocritical formulas with which the world tries to hide from itself the wickedness of its evil deeds. Amaziah's politely worded message was an insolent challenge to the King of Israel to meet him on the field of war.
(3) Fittingly answered. Amaziah's insolence had silenced the prophet (ver. 16); he was now to find that Jonah would not so meekly submit to his impertinence. It may be proper for good men not to render railing for railing (1 Peter 3:9), but it is not to be lamented when vainglorious boasters are set down and fools answered . according to their folly (Proverbs 26:5).
2. Joash's response to Amaziah. This, which Josephus says was delivered in writing, contained two things.
(1) A parable or fable (ver. 18), not unlike that of Jotham to the Shechemites (Judges 9:8, etc.). It is not necessary to understand the thistle or thorn as pointing to Amaziah, in comparison with whom Joash claimed to be a tall cedar, though possibly this may have exactly expressed Joash's estimate of the relative greatness of their royal persons; or to suppose that Amaziah had solicited a daughter of Joash in marriage for his son and been refused, and that out of this sprang his present warlike attitude towards Israel; or to find in the wild beast in Lebanon which trod down the thistle an allusion to the northern warriors who, should hostilities break out, would overrun and trample down the land of Judah. It is sufficient to learn what the fable was designed to teach.
(2) The interpretation. This consisted of three parts:
(a) A contemptuous rebuke. Amaziah, lifted up with pride and ambition, was stepping beyond his natural and legitimate sphere. He had conquered the Edomites, and now aspired to measure swords with the Israelites. It was pure self-conceit that lay at the bottom of his arrogance - a home-truth Amaziah might have digested with profit.
(b) A condescending admonition. Amaziah had better stay at home. To be addressed by Joash as a wilful child might be by a wise and prudent father, must have been galling to the untamed spirit of Amaziah.
(c) A comminatory prediction. Amaziah was meddling to his hurt, "provoking calamity" that he should fall, even he and Judah with him. Joash probably knew that Amaziah had rashly entered upon a campaign he had neither resources nor courage to sustain. Fas est ab hoste doceri; but Amaziah would not hear.
III. THE SCENE OF THE BATTLE. Beth-shemesh (Joshua 15:10).
1. The meaning of the term. "The house of the sun." Probably the site of an ancient temple to the sun-god. The Egyptian On, or Heliopolis, i.e. "the city of the sun," is probably for the same reason styled Beth-shemesh (Jeremiah 43:13).
2. The situation of the place. On the southern border of Dan, and within the territory of Judah, about three miles west of Jerusalem, represented by the modern Arabian village 'Ain Seines, or "sun-well," near the Wady-es-Surar, north of which stretches a level plain suitable for a battle (Robinson, 'Bib. Res.,' vol.
3. p. 17; Thomson, 'The Land and the Book,' p. 535). Many fragments of old wall-foundations still are visible about the locality, and the modern village appears to have been built out of old materials.
3. The historical associations of the spot. It was one of the cities given to the Levites by the tribe of Judah (Joshua 21:16). The ark of the covenant long stood there (1 Samuel 6:12). One of the officers who purveyed for Solomon's court resided there (1 Kings 4:9). It afterwards was taken by the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18).
IV. THE RESULTS OF THE BATTLE.
1. The defeat of Judah. Joash and Amaziah "looked each other in the face." Their armies collided at the spot above described. The issue was a total rout for Judah (ver. 22).
2. The capture of Amaziah. Joash took him prisoner of war at Beth-shemesh. Amaziah's thoughts at this moment would be pleasant company for him! Whether Joash exulted over him, taunting him with his bravery, and reminding him of the fate of the poor briar who aspired to mate with the cedar, is not recorded; to Joash's credit it should be stated that Amaziah was not put to death, or even consigned to a prison, as he deserved and might have expected, but was allowed to live and even continue on his throne (ver. 25).
3. The destruction of a part of the wall of Jerusalem. Approaching the metropolis of Judah with its prisoner-king, Joash, not so much perhaps with a view to obtain a triumphal gateway (Thenius), or restrain its inhabitants from reprisals in the shape of warlike operations (Bertheau), as simply to mark the capital as a conquered city (Bahr), caused about four hundred cubits of the wall to be broken down, from the gate of Ephraim to the corner gate, i.e. about half of the north wall. The gate of Ephraim, called also the gate of Benjamin (Jeremiah 37:13; Jeremiah 38:7; Zechariah 14:10), because the way to Ephraim lay through Benjamin, was most likely situated at or near the present-day gate of Damascus, the modern Bab-el-Amud, or, Gate of the Column, m the second wall, while the corner gate, called also the first gate (Zechariah 14:10), was apparently at the other end of the wall from that at which the tower of Hananeel stood (Jeremiah 31:38), i.e. at the north-west angle where the wall turned southwards.
4. The despoliation of the temple and the palace. The pillaging of the former was not complete, but extended solely to the carrying off of the gold, silver, and vessels found in that part of the sacred building which was under the care of Obed-Edom and his sons (1 Chronicles 26:15), viz. in the house of Asuppim, or, "house of collections or provisions" (Nehemiah 12:25) - "a building used for the storing of the temple goods, situated in the neighbourhood of the southern door of the temple in the external court" (Keil). The plundering of the latter does not appear to have been restrained. All the treasures of the king's house fell a prey to the royal spoliator.
5. The taking of hostages. These were required in consequence of Amaziah's liberation, as a security for his good behaviour, and were most likely drawn from the principal families.
6. The return to Samaria. Joash acted with becoming moderation. Though he might have killed, he spared Amaziah, and even restored him to his throne. Whereas he might have broken down the entire city wall, he overthrew only a part of it. Instead of plundering the whole temple, he ravaged merely one of its external buildings. Judah and Jerusalem he might have annexed to his empire, but he forbore. Having properly chastised his royal brother, he returned to Samaria.
1. A man may wear a crown and yet be a fool - witness Amaziah.
2. "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
3. "He that girdeth on his armour should not boast as he that putteth it off."
4. The hand that lets slip the clogs of war deserves to be devoured by them.
5. Clemency becomes a conqueror, and is an ornament of kings. - W.
I. SPARED BY HIS CONQUEROR. (Ver. 25.) Instead of being put to death, he was restored to his crown and capital, where he actually survived Joash for fifteen years. This treatment he hardly deserved, considering he had aimed at Joash's life and crown. Yet was the mercy of it nothing to that of God's treatment of sinful men, whom, though they have raised against him the standard of revolt, he nevertheless spares, forgives, and will eventually exalt to a place upon the throne with Christ his Son.
II. PUNISHED FOR HIS APOSTASY. (Ver. 27.) This apostasy was committed in the earlier part of his reign (ver. 14), and soon began to bear bitter fruit, first in the defeat he sustained at the hand of Joash, probably next in the disaffection of his people, and finally in the formation of a conspiracy for his overthrow, which came to a head in the fifteenth year after Joash's death. One never knows when the evil fruits and penal consequences of sin are exhausted. The safe plan is to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness "(Ephesians 5:11).
III. DRIVEN FROM HIS CAPITAL. (Ver. 27.) Probably the disaffection began after the defeat by Joash and the dismantling of Jerusalem. There is no reason to suppose that Amaziah was obliged to flee until towards the end of the fifteen years referred to in the text. The immediate occasion of this flight was the discovery of a plot against his life. So. David had been obliged to flee from Jerusalem when his own son Absalom conspired against him (2 Samuel 15:16).
IV. SLAIN BY HIS SUBJECTS. (Ver. 27.) Lachish, where he sought refuge, was an old Canaanitish royal city (Joshua 10:3-31; Joshua 12:11), south-west of Jerusalem, in the lowlands of Judah (Joshua 15:39). According to Micah (Micah 1:13), it was the first Jewish town to be affected by Israelitish idolatry, which spread from it towards the capital. It would seem also to have been one of Solomon's chariot cities (1 Kings 9:19; 1 Kings 10:26-29). It had been fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:9), and was subsequently captured by Sennacherib (2 Chronicles 32:9) after a long siege (Jeremiah 34:7). It should probably be identified with the modern Um-Lakis, a few miles west-south-west of the Eleutheropolis. Arrested here, the fallen monarch was despatched by the daggers of assassins, as his father before him had been (2 Chronicles 24:25). As conspiracy had set the crown on Amaziah's head, so conspiracy now took it off.
V. BURIED WITH HIS FATHERS. (Ver. 28.) Brought to Jerusalem in his own royal chariot, he was entombed beside his ancestors in the city of Judah, or of David, thus receiving an honour which was not paid to his father. He got a better funeral than he deserved, though it is welt to forget men's faults at the grave's mouth. Nihil nisi bonum de mortuis.
VI. SUCCEEDED BY HIS SON. (2 Chronicles 26:1.) The conspirators did not attempt to seize the crown for either themselves or any of their faction. They adhered to the legitimate succession of the house of David. As it were, this was a posthumous mercy conferred on Amaziah. Lessons.
1. Beware of incurring the Divine anger.
2. Envy not kings or great men.
3. Prepare for the day of death.
4. Think with kindness on the dead.
5. Practise mercy towards the living. - W.