Joash, King of Israel—Amaziah, King of Judah
Amaziah, the son of Joash king of Judah, began to reign in the second year of Joash king of Israel. He reigned fifteen years simultaneously with this king and twenty‑nine years in all at Jerusalem. At this point let us notice here in the history in kings, the role of mothers in the conduct of their children. When these mothers come from Judah and Jerusalem, it is rare to see their sons follow the worship of false gods. Only the four last kings of Judah, in the time of its thorough decadence, escape this influence of their mothers, who were of the same tribe and were themselves enveloped, so to speak, in this apostasy. It is said of these kings, that they "did evil in the sight of Jehovah, according to all that his father(s) had done." But we shall come back to this remark again.
The mother of Joash of Judah was Zibiah of Beer‑sheba; the mother of Amaziah the son of Joash was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. We shall meet other such examples. Contrariwise, the influence of idolatrous mothers or wives was pernicious for the kings.
The wife of Jehoram of Judah was Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab (2 Kings 8: 18); Ahaziah was the son of Athaliah (2 Kings 8: 26). This observation should make Christian mothers realize their responsibility and ought to exercise them to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord; on the other hand it shows that the union of a Christian family head with a woman of the world is morally disastrous for the children issuing from such a union.
Amaziah "did what was right in the sight of Jehovah, yet not like David his father: he did according to all that Joash his father had done" (v. 3). To govern his conduct, Amaziah should have gone back to the origin of the kingship and to the conduct of David, king according to God's heart. No doubt David had seriously failed in his life and had had to undergo severe discipline on this account; but David's heart had always been upright when it had been a matter of the Lord's service and of the throne of God in the midst of His people. Amaziah followed the footsteps of his father Joash whose life was divided, as we have seen, into two very distinct periods, one of true godliness, the other of a decline all the more marked in that its beginnings had been so brilliant.
Nevertheless, this beginning by itself does not denote a heart devoted unreservedly to the service of the Lord. A straw in a piece of cast iron is enough to cause it to break when the right occasion presents itself. This straw was the maintenance of the high places. We have already spoken of this subject, and we return to it to observe that, apart from the two exceptions already mentioned, this word "Only, the high places were not removed" is like a refrain accompanying the history of the faithful kings of Judah; whereas another refrain, "He departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin," designates the kings of Israel. These kings ordered their conduct in matters religious according to that of the head of their royal house, who was an idolater. The kings of Judah, instead of governing themselves according to David their father, were generally content to seek their point of departure in the reign of Solomon, who had not abolished the high places. But it is always very dangerous to accommodate oneself to a system which, even when boasting of great antiquity, does not seek the mind of God as its source. This is also the history of the responsible Church. Instead of linking up her testimony with "that which was from the beginning," she found her starting‑point in the customs, traditions, and principles that characterized her when she was already in decline. Joash tolerated the people's incense-burning upon the high places; he himself, no doubt, did not participate in these idolatrous customs, but he was no less guilty. To tolerate evil in the people whom God had entrusted to him was the equivalent of committing it himself.
A second point is to Amaziah's praise: "And it came to pass when the kingdom was established in his hand, that he slew his servants who had smitten the king his father" (v. 5). He did not let evil go unpunished in the sphere of his responsibility. At least in this respect he understood, like Solomon at his accession to the throne, that to tolerate crime and evil was to make himself liable for it. This question of liability is little understood today. Most Christians feel that they are not guilty in tolerating evil in the sphere to which they belong, that their responsibility is taken care of if they abstain from evil personally. This is a serious error, which sooner or later bears its sad fruits! "Holiness becometh thy house, O Jehovah, for ever" (Ps. 93: 5)-not only the Christian individually. The ruin and final apostasy of Christendom plays a large part in the misunderstanding of this truth. In this at least, Amaziah was faithful, somewhat counterbalancing his lack of vigilance with respect to the high places.
"But,' it is added, "the children of those that smote him he did not put to death; according to that which is written in the book of the law of Moses wherein Jehovah commanded saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin" (v. 6). There again, Amaziah shows an intelligent respect for the Word of God. This commandment of the Lord had been given in Deuteronomy 24: 16 and Amaziah governed himself by it with the obedient heart required of all those who hear and read His Word.
Between verses 6 and 7 we have an intentional hiatus filled in by 2 Chronicles 25: 5‑16. We shall follow our custom of not, except in passing, encroaching upon that which this latter book presents, for by this omission the Word brings out the sin of the kings of Israel, by opposing it to that which was righteous and godly in the conduct of the kings of Judah. Nevertheless, the account in Chronicles gives us to understand the event related in verses 7 to 14 of our chapter. Amaziah, for a time disposed to use troops of Israel whom he had hired to fight Edom, and warned by the prophet that "Jehovah is not with Israel," gives up his project which had already been executed in part and sends this contingent back to their homes. With only his own army and in dependence upon the Lord, he undertakes the campaign against Edom, and wins a brilliant victory. The troops of Israel that had been dismissed fall upon the cities of Judah, smiting three thousand men and taking much spoil. But, as the prophet had said to Amaziah, the Lord was able to give him much more than the wages given to the men of Ephraim. If he must in some measure incur the consequences of his unbelief in hiring them without having consulted the Lord, he can on the other hand count upon the blessing that follows obedience.
This calamity, casting a pall upon his victory over Edom, does not drive the king to the Lord. Even his victory becomes an occasion of stumbling for him. He brings the gods of the Edomites to Judah and bows down before them without listening to the protests of a new prophet.
His pride as a victorious king being wounded, and incensed by the humiliation which the troops of Ephraim had inflicted upon him, Amaziah provokes Joash the son of Jehoahaz, king of Israel. He collides with a pride even greater than his own. Joash answers him by a very transparent parable: Jehoram of Judah, the thorn‑bush of Lebanon, husband of Athaliah the daughter of Ahab, had sent to Jehoram of Israel, the cedar of Lebanon, asking him for a wife from the house of Ahab for his son Ahaziah. Jehu, the wild beast in Lebanon, had trodden underfoot Ahaziah, the king of Judah . . . And now his successor, instead of humbling himself, was glorying in his victory over Edom! Here we see Joash's irritation break forth, seeing his military forces despised while Judah alone had been sufficient to conquer Edom.
Amaziah does not listen to this warning, and "it was of God," Chronicles tell us (2 Chr. 25: 20), "that he might deliver them into the enemy's hand, because they had sought after the gods of Edom." Judah is beaten, Amaziah taken prisoner, Jerusalem broken down, all the treasures of the king and of the temple taken away as spoil along with hostages (vv. 12‑14). Amaziah meets his God, whom he had professed to serve and honor, as a consuming fire from that moment when he forsakes Him to serve other gods.
This same unfaithfulness is the cause of Amaziah's tragic death. Our chapter simply recounts that they conspired against him at Jerusalem and that he fled to Lachish, that they sent after him to slay him, and that they brought him on horses to bury him with his fathers in the city of David. But Chronicles gives us the solemn reason for this drama: "From the time that Amaziah turned aside from following Jehovah, they made a conspiracy against him."
In the meantime (vv. 15‑16), Joash of Israel, the son of Jehoahaz, died so that Amaziah lived an additional fifteen years after his conqueror. His son Azariah succeeded him. He recovered Elath for Judah and restored it. This city which previously, together with all the territory of Edom to which it belonged, had been under the rule of David and had formed part of the Solomon's dominion, had been an important outlet for his maritime power, for it was located not far from Ezion‑Geber on the shore of the Red Sea (1 Kings 9: 26; 2 Chr. 8: 17). After Azariah, it did not remain in the hands of Judah for long Sixty‑eight years later, Rezin the king of Syria, recovered it (2 Kings 16: 6).