Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE ENORMOUS FREEDOM OF ACTION WHICH HE ALLOWS WICKED MEN. Here we learn:
1. That God allows wicked men to form wrong conceptions of himself. All these kings, although descendants of Abraham, who was a monotheist, became idolaters. "The high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places." Golden calves, symbols of Egyptian worship, still stood in Dan and Bethel, at the extremities of the dominions. Terribly strange it seems to us that the Almighty Author of the human mind should permit it to think of him as some material object in nature, or as some production of the human hand. What human father, had he the power, would permit his children to form not only wrong but wicked impressions of himself? For what reason this is permitted I know not, Albeit it shows God's practical respect for that freedom of action with which he has endowed us.
2. That God allows wicked men to obtain despotic dominion over others. All these kings were wicked - Amaziah, Azariah, Joash, Jeroboam, and Zachariah, and yet they enjoyed an almost autocratic dominion over the rights, possessions, and lives of millions. Here we read of Amaziah slaying ten thousand men, capturing ten thousand prisoners, and taking Selah, the capital of the Edomites, and of Joash King of Israel using harshly the rights of the conqueror. "He came to Jerusalem, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem from the gate of Ephraim unto the corner gate." It is said of Jeroboam, who reigned forty-one years, that he "did evil in the sight of the Lord, and departed not from the sins of his father." Antecedently one might have concluded that, if a wicked man was allowed to live amongst his fellows, he would be doomed to obscurity and to social and political impotence; but it is not so. Why? Who shall answer?
II. GOD PUNISHES WICKED MEN BY THEIR OWN WICKEDNESS.
1. A wicked man is punished by his own wickedness. Amaziah's conduct is an example. Elated with his triumph over the Edomites, he sought occasion of war with the King of Israel. "He sent messengers to Joash, the son of Jehoahaz son of Jehu, King of Israel, saying, Come, let us look one another in the face," etc. About fifteen years after his defeat he fled from Jerusalem to Laehish to escape assassination, but the assassin pursued him, and struck him dead. It is ever so. Wickedness is its own punishment. The wicked passions of a corrupt man are his tormenting devils. Sin is suicidal.
2. A wicked man is punished by the wickedness of others. The thousands whom these despotic kings reduced to anguish, destitution, and death, were idolaters and rebels against Heaven, and by the hand of wicked men they were punished. Thus it ever is. Devils are their own tormentors. Sin converts a community of men into tormenting fiends; man becomes the avenging fate of man.
1. Humanity in this world is obviously in a morally abnormal condition. It can never be that he whose power is immeasurable, whose wisdom and goodness are infinite and radiant everywhere above us and below us, could create such a state of things as we have here. He originates the good alone, permits the evil, and will ultimately overrule it for good.
2. Faith in a future that shall rectify the evils of the present seems essential to true religion. Genuine religion is a supreme love for the Supreme Existence. But who could love a Supreme Existence, which could permit forever such a state of existence as we have here? There must come a day of rectification: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him," etc. (Matthew 25:31-46). - D.T.
I. EARLY RIGHT-DOING.
1. A promising beginning. Amaziah was not, any more than his father, a man of strong character. He proved to be vain, boastful, and foolish But he began well, giving heed to the counsels of God's prophets (cf. 2 Chronicles 25:7-10), and therefore it is said of him, "He did right in the sight of the Lord." It is not, however, the beginning, but the end, which tests character (Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:14).
2. Significant shortcoming. To the record of his right-doing, it is added, "Yet not like David his father," or, as elsewhere, "not with a perfect heart." His conduct is likened to that of Joash his father, whose history very much resembled his own. Amaziah, like Joash, began well, afterwards lapsed into idolatry and cruelty, and died by conspiracy of his servants under a cloud of ignominy and contempt. Those who are like in sin need not wonder that they are like in doom.
3. The high places unremoved. This was one of the points in which Amaziah showed a want of thoroughness in right-doing. The sin was one of shortcoming rather than of positive transgression, like the keeping up of the worship of the calves in Israel It is not, therefore, reckoned so hideous as me Baal-worship; but the after-effects show that no portion of God's Law can be neglected with impunity. The worship on high places was a temptation and snare to Judah. The neglect to remove them reacted seriously on the life of the nation.
II. JUST JUDGMENT. The treatment by Amaziah of his father's murderers gives further evidence of his early disposition to do well. We observe:
1. The execution of justice. The murderers were put to death. This was right. The existence of even real grievances does not justify resort to crime. David's treatment of Saul shows the right course to be pursued in such cases (1 Samuel 24:4-12). And a nation is only secure when real crime is punished within its borders.
2. Discrimination of innocent and guilty. It is specially noted about Amaziah that, in taking this vengeance on the men who slew his father, he did not, as was a frequent custom in those times, slay the children of the murderers. He acted, therefore, on principle in his judgment, not in blind fury. His object was to vindicate justice, not to take revenge. He drew the line where it ought to be drawn - between the actually guilty and the innocent. There is a strong tendency, where anger is strongly kindled against a person or persons, to allow rage to overflow on those not directly implicated in their offence. The odium that attaches to them is extended also to their families, and pleasure is taken in inflicting insult and pain on their children and relatives. This ought not to be.
3. Regard for God's Law. The reason for Amaziah acting as he did was that it was so commanded in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24:16). On the seeming contradiction between this passage and those which speak of the iniquity of the fathers being visited on the children, or which illustrate the actual punishment of children for their parents' sins - as in the case of Achan (Joshua 7:24-26) - it may suffice to remark that the rule here laid down is one for human jurisprudence. There is a wider treatment of human beings, constantly finding illustration in providence, in which the principles of organic union and corporate responsibility have full play; but God does not entrust the enforcement of these to any human magistracy. What specially concerns us here is the fact that, finding such a rule laid down in the Word of God, Amaziah faithfully adhered to it. His conduct shows an advance in the moral conceptions of the time - a better appreciation of the fact of individuality.
III. EARLY VICTORY. In connection with this earlier and more promising part of Amaziah's reign, we are told of a great victory which he gained over the Edomites. The Edomites had revolted in Jehoram's reign (2 Kings 8:20); but Amaziah now felt himself strong enough to attempt their resubjugation. In setting out on this war - the origin of which we do not precisely know - he had the countenance of God's prophets, and acted by their directions (2 Chronicles 25:6-10). He had, as men always have when God is with them and they are content to be guided by his will, great success. He slew of Edom ten thousand, took Selah, or Petra, and changed its name. But the flush of his victory proved also the beginning of his ruin.
1. His conquest was not unmarked by great cruelty (cf. 2 Chronicles 25:12).
2. He fell into idolatry, actually setting up the gods of the Edomites which he had brought home, and burning incense to them - those gods which, as a prophet reminded him, could not deliver their own people out of his hand (2 Chronicles 25:15). From this point dates his declension. He acted precisely as his father had done in forcibly silencing the prophets; and God, in return, gave him up to a reprobate mind for his destruction. Prosperity tests a man's nature. There are few who can carry the full cup without becoming haughty and God-forgetful. - J.O.
2 Chronicles 25:20).
I. THE BOASTFUL CHALLENGE.
1. Its motives. It is not difficult to conceive the kind of influences which led Amaziah to give this challenge to Joash.
(1) Naturally vain-glorious, he was greatly elated by his successes over Edom, and was ambitious to pose as a great military conqueror. How many wars have had their origin in no higher source! To gratify the vanity and ambition of individuals, or the lust of glory in nations, torrents of blood have been shed.
(2) Israel was at this time in a very humbled state, but showed signs of reviving. Amaziah probably thought it was a good time to bring back the revolted tribes to the scepter of Judah.
(3) The Israelites had given some provocation in attacks upon the cities of Judah (2 Chronicles 25:13). This at least would furnish a pretext.
2. Its nature. The challenge took the form of a message to Joash, "Come, let us look one another in the face." In giving such a challenge, Amaziah did not count the cost (cf. Luke 14:31). He was puffed up with conceit, and did not reflect on the superior military abilities of Joash, already beginning to be displayed in his wars with the Syrians, or on his larger forces. Rather, Joash's rising reputation roused in him the ambition to measure himself against Joash. When men are left to themselves there are no limits to the extent to which their folly will lead them.
3. Its lack of sanction from God. This time God was not with Amaziah in his undertaking. No prophet's voice commanded, sanctioned, or promised blessings on the war. Amaziah was acting on his own motion, and in reliance solely on his own strength. God had left him, as he left Saul. In such condition a man but plunges on to his ruin.
II. THE HAUGHTY REPLY. Joash perfectly took the measure of his challenger, and answered him according to his folly.
1. His insulting parable. First, he replied by a parable. He told how the briar (or thistle) of Lebanon sent to the cedar of Lebanon, demanding that the daughter of the cedar should be given in wife to his son. But a wild beast of the forest passed by, and trode down the briar. The idea of the parable is, of course, to ridicule the presumption of Amaziah in venturing to put himself on an equality with Joash. It was meant to sting and insult the Jewish king by intimating to him that in Joash's eyes he was no more than a contemptible briar in comparison with the majestic cedars. On it we remark
(1) that Joash also cannot be acquitted of overweening arrogance. It is a scornful, haughty spirit which breathes in his parable. From the Israelitish point of view the ten tribes were the kingdom of Israel; Judah was the isolated tribe. But the state of Israel at this time, and in the recent past, did not warrant these boastful metaphors. The cedar, as well as the briar, had been pretty well trodden down by the wild beast of the forest. This arrogant spirit, moreover, is apt to lead its possessor into the error of despising things simply because they are outwardly weak. In this case the King of Israel very justly took the boastful Amaziah's measure. But it does not always follow that the cedar has the right to lord it over the briar. It is no uncommon thing for the weak things of the world to overcome the mighty (1 Corinthians 1:27, 28). David was a feeble stripling in Goliath's sight, but Goliath fell before him (1 Samuel 16:43-51). The numbers may be few, but if they have a good cause, are inspired by faith, and go forward at God's call, one will chase a thousand (Deuteronomy 32:30; Joshua 23:10).
(2) Nevertheless, the parable was just in so far as Amaziah was matching himself against one who, as the event showed, was greatly his superior. Joash was by far the abler soldier, and had larger forces. Amaziah wished to show himself his equal, but lacked the Power of taking a just estimate of his own capabilities. This is one of the first conditions of a man's strength - to know himself. "How many men may you meet in middle life whose career has been marked by bitter disappointments, and whose hearts have been soured by these! They began with vaulting hopes which have never been realized; and so they blame what they call their adverse fate. But you see the effect of one great blunder which has pursued them all their lives - you see that they have never sought to know themselves. They began in a fool's paradise, and they have never made their escape from it. A more exact and modest estimate of Their own powers, a clear and honest apprehension of their own capacity, a readiness to do the work within their limits, the work they were meant to do, and they had been spared many bitter hours."
2. His contemptuous advice. Following up his parable, Joash gave the King of Judah a piece of advice, scornfully and contemptuously expressed, but such advice as, on the whole, Amaziah would have done well to take.
(1) He touched truly enough the motive of his foolish challenge. "Thou hast indeed smitten Edom, and thine heart is lifted up." A measure of success turns the heads of some people, inflates their ideas of themselves, and incapacitates them for sober calculation of the future.
(2) He bids him content himself with what he has achieved, and tarry at home. The tone is most insulting, implying the most perfect contempt for Amaziah's threatened attack; but the advice was wise. Amaziah was a fool to pro-yoke a needless war, and run himself and his kingdom into danger from a mere motive of vain-glory.
(3) He predicts to him what will happen if he persists in his foolish course. "Why shouldest thou meddle to thy hurt, that thou shouldest fall, even thou, and Judah with thee?" It perhaps was not to be expected that Amaziah should take advice so unpalatable, so tauntingly conveyed, so wounding to his pride and royal honor. But the result showed that Joash had not overstated his case. Amaziah meddled truly to his hurt., and he fell, even he, and Judah with him. It is the fatality of a foolish mind that it is impregnable to considerations which would show it its folly.
III. THE CRUSHING DEFEAT. Amaziah, as was to be expected, would not hear. No obstinate man does. He went on his foolish, headstrong way, and brought down upon himself an avalanche of trouble.
1. The army was defeated. He and Joash met in battle, and his army was utterly routed. It is characteristic teat the fight took place at Beth-shemesh, in the territory of Judah. This shows that Joash was the first to move when he saw that war was inevitable. While Amaziah was dallying and mustering his men, Joash was already on the march, and took the offensive. For victory of any kind, much depends on promptitude, alertness, and activity on the part of the assailant.
2. The king was taken prisoner. Joash "took Amaziah." How long the king remained a captive is not said. He was probably delivered up after "hostages" had been given. But the humiliation was great and bitter. The people of Judah never forgot or forgave it.
3. Jerusalem was captured and plundered. The royal city shared the fate of its king. It had no alternative but to open its gates to the conqueror. Joash did not spare it. To mark the completeness of his conquest he,
(1) brake down four hundred cubits of the city wall on the side towards Ephraim;
(2) plundered the house of the Lord and the palace of the king of their treasures. The treasuries had been emptied in the preceding reign for Hazael (2 Kings 12:18); now a second time their contents are taken away. Miserable people, and miserable king! No wonder burning indignation existed against Amaziah, who had led the kingdom into this trouble. We may see some parallel to it in the feelings of the French towards their emperor after the Franco-Prussian War. The lesson had been taught in the preceding reign, but Amaziah had not profited by his father's misfortunes; and, having followed his footsteps in sin, was now reaping the consequences in even severer chastisement. - J.O.
I. THE ACCESSION OF JEROBOAM. More is not told us, than we have already heard, of the "might" of Joash. Jeroboam, who succeeded him, proved the able son of an able father. But the stock of Jehu was godless as ever. The new king also, as we are to see, "did evil in the sight of the Lord," and kept up the "sin ' of his namesake, Jeroboam I., in the worship of the calves. Great natural ability is often associated with godlessness of heart.
II. THE ACOESSION OF AZARIAH.
1. Azariah made king. The notice of the conspiracy against Amaziah precedes in the narrative the notice of Azariah's accession; but there is some reason from the chronology to think that the son was made king along with his father shortly after Amazlah's disastrous defeat.
(1) It is stated in 2 Kings 15:8 that the son of Jeroboam II., Zachariah, began to reign in the thirty-eighth year of Azariah, and as there is no sign in the narrative of the interregnum of eleven years which chronologers usually introduce, it would follow that Azariah really began to reign about eleven years before his father's death.
(2) This is in itself not unlikely when we remember the odium which must have fallen on Amaziah after his defeat and captivity, and the capture of Jerusalem. The proof he had given of incapacity for government would make it desirable, to secure the popularity of the throne, that his son should be associated with him in the kingdom.
(3) There are indications in the narrative which point in this direction, e.g. the age of Amaziah, only sixteen years; the statement that Amaziah "lived" fifteen years after the death of Joash, where we might have expected the word "reigned;" lastly, the statement that Amaziah "built Elath, and restored it to Judah, after that the king slept with his fathers."
2. Amaziah's ignominious end. In any case, it seems certain that Amaziah's popularity never revived after the unhappy encounter with Joash. Fifteen years rolled on, and at length, from causes to us unknown, a plot was formed against him in Jerusalem. He fled to Lachish, but was pursued and killed. The slain king was brought back on horses, and buried in Jerusalem in the royal sepulcher. Thus the sun of another descendant of David, who had forsaken the God of his fathers, went down in blood and shame. - J.O.
I. THE REVIVED FORTUNES OF ISRAEL.
1. Jeroboam's successes in war. This able monarch continued the work of Joash. In fulfillment of the promise that God would give Israel a savior, Jeroboam was enabled to complete the recovery of the cities and territories of Israel from the Syrians. "He restored the coast of Israel from the entering in of Hamath unto the sea of the plain," that is, he extended the boundaries of the kingdom as widely as they had ever reached in the days of its greatest prosperity.
2. The cause of this - God's pity for Israel. This remarkable turn in the fortunes of Israel was strange when it is remembered that Jeroboam was not a man who had the fear of God before him. The explanation is that already given (2 Kings 13:23), the pity which God had for Israel, his desire to give it one more chance before blotting out its name, his respect for the covenant with the fathers, and, subordinately, his regard to the prayer of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:4, 5). If, as the result of this revival of the nation's fortunes, piety did not also revive, destruction would come all the more speedily. In raising up this powerful king to save Israel, we see God's faithfulness to his promise.
II. PROPHETIC ACTIVITY. We have allusion in the text to the prophetic activity of Jonah, the son of Amittai, the same who was sent to Nineveh, and we know that in this reign other prophets, notably Hosea and Amos, exercised their ministry. The writings of the latter prophets, show us how, amidst the sunshine of revived prosperity, the condition of the people did not improve, but grew more and more corrupt. But God's faithfulness and care and love for his people are shown in sending such prophets to warn them (cf. 2 Kings 17:13). What could exceed the tender pathos of a ministry like Hosea's, or the fidelity and earnestness of a testimony like that of Amos, who bearded the highest in the land to bear witness against them (Amos 7:10)? Yet the people would not hear, but attributed their prosperity to their idols, and worshipped them more than ever, while immorality, violence, and the loosening of all bonds between man and man abounded more and more (Hosea 4:1).
III. THE EVE OF COLLAPSE. Jeroboam died, and was succeeded by his son Zachariah. This was the fourth generation of the house of Jehu, and it will be seen that he reigned only six months. From this time Israel went rapidly to its ruin. The height of prosperity reached in the reign of Jeroboam was but the last flicker of the light before final extinction. A little over thirty years after Jeroboam's death - forty at most - the words of the prophets were fulfilled, and the kingdom of Israel was destroyed, and its people carried away by the Assyrian. - J.O.