The Bible Story - Volume VI
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The Bible Story - Volume VI

Chapter 132:

Face to Face With Reality

   KING Hazael of Syria was approaching Jerusalem with his army, intending to attack the city, when he received very valuable gifts sent by Jehoash, king of Judah. Hazael was sure that the gifts were either to pay him to leave Judah or were to lure him to Jerusalem for more wealth and into some kind of ambush. He had to decide at once which course to take.

A Temporary Lull

   "Why should we risk anything by going against Jerusalem, the high walls of which are probably crawling with many thousands of defenders?" Hazael asked his officers. "If these gifts are meant to pay us to return home, we can do well to accept them without losing even one man. Then we can always return another time to see how matters will develop." (II Kings 12:17-18.)
   Jehoash was almost delirious with relief when he heard what had happened. He had been spared from certain disaster, for which he had given up most of the valuable objects in his palace that were portable. But the greatest part of what he had paid had come from another source. The king had ruthlessly stripped the temple of its hallowed treasures to buy his way out of an enemy attack!
   Jehoash's first surge of elation, shared by thousands later when they heard about it, subsided considerably after he became troubled with the notion that Hazael might swing his army around and come to Jerusalem after all. He felt safe only after reports were brought to him that the Syrians had crossed the Jordan and were well on their way up the east side of the river.
   But security didn't last long. About a year later Jehoash received the staggering news that Syrian soldiers were streaming westward across the Jordan river and were marching directly toward Jerusalem. The king fell into a greater state of frenzy than he had gone through the previous year. This time he didn't have enough left to pay his way out of war. While he hastily made defense plans with his officers, another report came that the Syrians numbered only a few hundred.
   Everyone's mood, especially that of Jehoash, abruptly changed. Filled with confidence, the king told his officers to forget about defending Jerusalem and go out and slaughter the intruders.
   The two armies came within view of each other only a few miles north of the capital. The sight of thousands of oncoming soldiers didn't deter the Syrians, who soon came face to face with these men of Judah.
   "Which of you is Hazael?" Jehoash asked through an interpreter.
   "King Hazael is not with us," a Syrian officer replied. "I am commander of these men."
   "How can your king be so foolish as to believe that you can war against us with so few soldiers?" Jehoash inquired, staring disdainfully at the Syrian troops.

Payoff Multiplies Greed

   "We're not here to fight," the Syrian commander explained. "A year ago King Hazael accepted tribute from you for not invading Judah. He expects tribute every year. We have come to collect it."
   "This is ridiculous!" Jehoash barked. "There is no such understanding! None of you will return to take back anything to your king!"
   "See the men on horses on that north rise?" the Syrian officer asked, pointing. "At least they'll take news back to King Hazael. If we are destroyed, so will you be when the whole army of Syria comes to ravage Judah!"
   In his anger Jehoash was more inclined toward action than caution. Minutes later a battle was in progress. It didn't go the way Jehoash was sure it would. Perhaps the soldiers of Judah were troubled by the notion that the rest of the Syrian army was just over the horizon. Whatever the problem, they were in no mood to fight. Their desire was to hastily retreat.
   It was incredible, but Hazael's hundreds triumphed over Jehoash's thousands. God permitted the Syrians to punish Judah for idolatry. (II Chronicles 24:23-24.)
   Jehoash fled to his palace, but there was no safety there. The victorious Syrians came on to Jerusalem, forced their way inside the walls and seized many things of value that they could carry, including objects from the king's palace. When the invaders finally left, days later, the army of Judah was almost nonexistent and Jehoash had become very ill from the pressures and distress of his worrisome situation. He was forced to spend days in bed, during which he was attended, among others, by two servants who had been in his service for considerable time.
   They had overheard Jehoash give the order to have the priest Zechariah stoned, and they hated their master for it. Now that he was at their mercy they saw to it, in their misguided sense of justice, that the king didn't leave his bed until he was lifeless.
   Jehoash was buried in Jerusalem, but because he hadn't earned much respect as a ruler, he wasn't buried in the tombs of the kings of Judah. (II Kings 12:19-21; II Chronicles 24:25-27.)
   Amaziah, Jehoash's son, became the next king of Judah. He was only twenty-five years of age at the time, but he used more wisdom as king than his father had used in the latter years of his reign. He didn't manage to stop his people from false worship at various places, but he reestablished greater worship at the temple. Meanwhile, he tracked down the murderers of his father, and had them executed. (II Kings 14:1-6; II Chronicles 25:1-4.)
   One of Amaziah's ambitions was to organize a new, large army to replace the one that had been devastated by the Syrians. The king succeeded by building it of choice young men of twenty years and up from the nation of Judah. It reached three hundred thousand.
   But Amaziah wasn't satisfied with that figure. He wanted a larger army so that he could go to Edom and be certain of exacting the tribute the Edomites had refused to pay since King Jehoram's time.
   Amaziah couldn't find more men in his kingdom who could be developed into superior fighting men, but he managed to draw a hundred thousand men of Ephraim out of the ten-tribed nation of Israel by offering a thousand pounds of silver in payment.

No Mercenaries Needed

   With a well-trained force of four hundred thousand men, Amaziah felt that he was ready for certain victory over the Edomites. Just as he was about to take his army on the planned conquest, a man of God came to talk to him.
   "God has sent me to warn you not to use the hundred thousand men you bought into your army. They are not the kind of men to fight your battles. If you take them with you, you will be defeated by the Edomites. It is God who determines the outcome of a battle, and not the number of men involved."
   "But I've already paid a fortune to these men to be a part of my army," Amaziah pointed out, irritated by the intrusion of the man of God into his affairs.
   "If you're concerned about a loss, God can more than make up for it by giving you great spoils," the prophet said.
   Amaziah was troubled. To relinquish a fourth of his army seemed a mad thing to do. At first he was determined not to do it, but his fear of losing to the Edomites changed his mind. Reluctantly he gave orders to his astonished top officers to separate from the army of Judah the Ephraimite mercenaries from Israel.
   When the men from the northern tribes were told to return to their homes, they made little effort to hide their anger. To them, mostly experienced soldiers, it was an insult to learn that they were unwanted in a war venture. There was nothing to be gained by telling them why they were being discharged. They would not have understood. (II Chronicles 25:5-10.)
   Amaziah departed with his three hundred thousand men to the south, regretting that he was leaving behind a hundred thousand soldiers in an ugly mood. As soon as the army of Judah was well on its way, that hundred thousand decided to take from Judah what they might have earned if they could have stayed in Amaziah's army. And at the same time to take back several towns a former king of Judah had taken from Israel in battle. (II Chronicles 13:13-20.) So, on their way to the north they vengefully attacked those towns now in northern Judah, killing three thousand men and taking everything of value they could carry. (II Chronicles 25:13.)
   The arrival of the army of Judah didn't surprise the Edomites, whose spies and lookouts kept them posted. They were ready for battle in the Valley of Salt, directly south of the Dead Sea. When the fighting was over, ten thousand Edomites were dead and ten thousand more had been captured. From there Amaziah moved southward to conquer the fortress city of Selah later known as Petra the Edomite capital built in a rocky area in the Mt. Seir range. There, from one of the many high cliffs, the ten thousand captives were thrown into a gorge. (II Kings 14:7; II Chronicles 25:11-12.)
   Having whipped Edom into a state of subjection, Amaziah and his army returned home in triumph. But when the king learned what the hundred thousand soldiers who had been discharged had done, he was infuriated.
   "That king at Samaria is protecting those murderers!" Amaziah, king of Judah, stormed. "I must go up there and demand that they be punished or turned over to me!"

Meanwhile, in Israel...

   The king in Samaria to whom Amaziah referred was the son of Jehoahaz, the ruler the Syrians had left with such a small army. (II Kings 13:1-7.) After King Jehoahaz was slain, his son Joash had become king of the ten tribes. He wasn't any more obedient to God than his father, although when he heard that Elisha was seriously ill he went to visit him because he believed that Elisha could prevail upon God to help Israel. By that time Joash had built up a much larger army by which he hoped to release Israel from obeisance to the Syrians. Elisha told him that he would triumph over the Syrians in three battles. (II Kings 13:14-19.) Israel's freedom from the Syrians would thus be accomplished to fulfill-the promise God had made to King Jehoahaz years previously. (II Kings 13:4.) That was the aging prophet's last prediction. Joash saw to it that the prophet Elisha was honorably entombed in a crypt not far from Samaria.
   Later, when another body was brought to the crypt for burial, the bearers saw a mounted band of Moabite marauders coming across the plain. Eager to get the burial over so that they could get out of sight, they jerked the crypt door back and dumped the corpse inside. As they crouched behind some boulders out of sight of the Moabites, they were terrified to see the one whom they threw into the crypt crawl out of the crypt and | gaze around in bewilderment. It was no longer a corpse but a living | man. The body had come in contact with the swathed remains of t Elisha, and life had been restored ; to the man who was dropped into the tomb. Fifteen major recorded miracles had been performed through the prophet while he lived. The sixteenth occurred even after his death, to help Israel learn the lesson of what God's power can do. (II Kings 13:20-21.)
   Elisha's prediction that Joash would triumph over the Syrians was fulfilled not long after the prophet's death. The Israelites won the three battles Elisha mentioned and regained the towns the Syrians had captured. By this time King Hazael had died. His son, Ben-hadad, led the Syrian troops against Joash's army without success. Israel's victory wasn't because of the obedience of the Israelites. It came about because of Jehoahaz' prayer and because God had promised Abraham that He would not entirely cast away His people Israel. (Genesis 13:15; 28:13-15.)

An Idolater Warned

   Meanwhile, Amaziah, king of Judah, had increasingly vengeful feelings about what the soldiers from Israel had done to so many people in Judah. At first he was intent on going up to Samaria with his army and demanding that King Joash round up the hundred thousand offenders for punishment. Before he could get around to making this rash move, he was visited again by the same man of God who had told him that if he used that hundred thousand men in his army, the Edomites would defeat him. ;'If you take your army to Samaria, you will end up in a battle in which you will be ingloriously routed," the man of God warned Amaziah.
   "Why must you always bring bad news to me?" Amaziah asked irritably.
   "You can hardly expect good news under the circumstances," the man of God replied. "God is not pleased because you have brought back images of pagan gods from Edom. He is even less pleased because you have been worshipping those same images." (II Chronicles 25:14-15.)
   Amaziah was embarrassed and angered by this accusation. The images had some strange fascination for him. He had gone so far as to burn incense before some of them and ask for protection and triumph in future battles despite the fact that he knew those gods didn't save Edom when he himself conquered them!
   "I hire a staff of advisers," Amaziah indignantly informed the man of God, "but I don't recall that you are among them. Keep your advice to yourself or you could find yourself on the sharp end of a spear."
   "I won't say more than to repeat that God will destroy you because you have turned to idolatry," the man of God said, walking away shaking his head. "The course of events could be different if you would do what is right." (II Chronicles 25:16.)
   Amaziah was again troubled. He feared that the man of God was right, but at the same time he wanted satisfaction from King Joash. Finally, after conferring with advisers, he decided that instead of making a lightning thrust at Samaria, he would send a challenge to the king of the ten tribes of Israel. A few hours later, riders from Jerusalem brought a message to Joash.

Face to Face

   "You are aware of what men of your nation have done to Judah, and yet you have remained strangely silent about it," the message read. "It's your responsibility to seek out and punish the offenders. If you refuse or fail, I shall come up with my army to meet you face to face to settle the matter." (II Chronicles 25:17.)
   The messengers returned to Judah with a stinging reply from Joash that caused Amaziah to regret that he had wasted time with a letter to the ruler of the ten tribes. The letter began by comparing Amaziah to a thistle and Joash to a cedar tree. Out of the forest in which the cedar grew came a fierce animal. The animal trampled the thistle because it made a ridiculous demand of the cedar.
   "I have heard that you are boasting of how you conquered the Edomites," Joash's reply went on. "That victory has obviously swelled both your confidence and your head. At the same time your wisdom has shrunk, or you would have the good sense to remain in Jerusalem. Why should you meddle in something that will result in harm to you, your army and your nation?"
   These words sent Amaziah into a rage. He summoned his top officers to prepare for an immediate invasion of the territory north of Judah. This was all in accordance with God's plan. The infuriating letter roused the king of Judah to unwise action because he had become a follower of Edomite idols and had advocated their worship to many in Judah. Amaziah had his opportunity to give up idolatry and spare himself when the prophet warned him.
   Led by Amaziah, a host of Judah's warriors marched out from Jerusalem, bound for a showdown at Samaria. After moving about ten miles, the king and his army came to an unexpected obstruction. That obstruction consisted of Joash and his troops, who had already reached Judah. (II Chronicles 25:18-21.)
   As Amaziah had requested, the two kings were now face to face.

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Publication Date: 1988
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