Avraham ben Yaakov
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 24
"And Yo'ash did what was right in the eyes of HaShem all the days of Yeho-yada the Priest" (v 1). The wonder boy-king Yo'ash remained faithful to the way of the Torah as long as he was under the tutelage of Yeho-yada, who had saved his life and with it the entire royal line of David, as told in the previous chapter. However, after Yeho-yada's death, Yo'ash went astray, as told later in our present chapter vv 17ff.
"And Yo'ash's heart was stirred to renew the House of HaShem" (v 4). From the time of the completion of the Temple by King Solomon until the time of Yo'ash was a period of one hundred and twenty-five years (see Rashi's calculation in his comment on v 7). Solomon had built a mighty structure that was designed to last, and it would not have required refurbishing after only 125 years but for the fact that it had been pillaged and damaged during Athaliah's six year tyranny by sons she had from another marriage previous to that with King Yehoram (Metzudas David on v 7).
As we have learned in our studies of I Chronicles from chapter 13 onwards, King David had seen his preparations for the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as his main mission in life, and in Rambam's Laws of Kings 11:4 we learn that the main qualification for being accepted for certain as Mashiach is that the candidate rebuilds the Holy Temple . There was thus unquestionably a Messianic quality in King Yo'ash's initiative to refurbish the Temple and to establish a viable system for financing its future maintenance, in which he showed even more zeal than the priests (as we see from v 6 of our present chapter). After the wicked Athaliah's efforts to shift the focus from the Temple to her own idolatrous cults, Yo'ash - who had grown up and been revealed in the Temple itself - set himself to restore it to its true position as the very center of the national endeavor.
The basic means of financing the Temple and its sacrifices was laid down in the Torah, which instituted the collection of one half shekel annually from every Israelite besides their other donations (Exodus 30:12-16). Yo'ash now reinstituted and reorganized the collection of the Temple funds from the people as described in our present chapter vv 5-14 and also with some additional details in the parallel account in II Kings 12:5-17. The latter is included in the Haftara read annually on Shabbos Shekalim, first of the four springtime Shabbosos on which special additional Torah selections are read in preparation for the coming festival of Pesach.
Initially Yo'ash instituted that the Cohanim would collect the moneys for the Temple, but when this proved to be ineffective he established a special chest outside the main Temple gate where the people could deposit their contributions directly, much to their joy (II Kings 12:5-11 and II Chron. 24:5-11). The chest had a small hole that was large enough to insert a coin but not sufficiently large for a would-be thief to insert his fingers. The arrangements instituted by Yo'ash were accompanied by an ethos of financial integrity (II Kings 12:16) that should be a model for all our financial dealings.
"But after the death of Yeho-yada, the princes of Judah came and prostrated themselves before the king" (v 17). This sad sequel to the story of Yo'ash does not appear in the parallel account of his reign in II Kings. According to the rabbis, the princes of Judah made Yo'ash into a god, reasoning that it states in the Torah that "the stranger who draws near [i.e. in the Holy of Holies] shall die" (Numbers 18:7) whereas Yo'ash had spent six years inside the Temple and he was still alive, so that it was only proper to offer him service as a god (Metzudas David on our present chapter verse 18). [Some may find it interesting to note that three of the four Hebrew letters of Yo'ash's name make up the name of another human being whose followers turned into a god.] The new ruler-cult led the people abandon the Temple in favor of other cults.
When a wave of prophets failed to bring about a change of heart in the people, Yeho-yada's son Zechariah stood up in the Temple to rebuke them. According to the Targum and other Midrashic sources, this took place on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which that year fell on a Shabbos. The people had set up a graven image in the Temple and were burning incense to it when Zechariah rose to protest, thinking that his prestige as son of the saintly Yeho-yada as well as being the present head of the Sanhedrin would save him from their ire. Displaying total ingratitude to Yeho-yada, who had saved his very life, Yo'ash gave instructions to kill Zechariah.
Midrash Zuta Eichah #1 (cf. Gittin 57b) tells that the blood of Zechariah that was spilled on the Temple floor continued seething and boiling until the time when Nebuchadnezzar's henchman Nevuzaradan came to Jerusalem and slaughtered 2,210,000 outside the city and another 940,000 in Jerusalem itself. Their blood flowed all the way to the blood of Zechariah. When Nevuzaradan enquired whose blood this was, the priests initially tried to conceal the scandal until he threatened that he would comb their flesh with iron combs. After they admitted that it was the blood of a prophet to whom they had refused to listen, Nevuzaradan killed wave after wave of the people to avenge Zechariah until he almost killed everyone. He said, "Zechariah, Zechariah, I have killed all the good ones. If you rest, all the better! If not, I will kill them all!" Only then did the blood cease boiling. Nevuzaradan said, "If Israel killed a single soul and this is what it caused them, what will be of me after killing so many souls?" He fled and converted to become a GER TZEDEK.
In the same year in which Zechariah was killed God's vengeance was already felt in Judah when an invading force of Arameans entered Jerusalem and destroyed the entire ruling class. (This was after an earlier advance by Chaza-el king of Aram against Judah and Jerusalem , in which Yo'ash bought him off using the Temple treasures, II Kings 12:18-19). Yo'ash himself was wounded in this attack and was subsequently killed in his bed by a conspiracy of his own attendants. The mothers of the two leading conspirators are specifically described as having been an Ammonite and a Moabitess respectively, because these two nations, whose father Lot had been saved by Abraham, showed the utmost ingratitude in their later persecutions of Israel just as Yo'ash showed the utmost ingratitude to his savior Yeho-yada in killing his son Zechariah (Rashi on v 26).
King Yo'ash was succeeded by his son Amatziahu, the Hebrew root of whose name, EMATZ means to be strong or courageous. Like his father Yo'ash, Amatziahu showed initial promise, but although a righteous king (as shown by his killing only the murderers of his father but not their children), he was not whole-hearted in his devotion to God (v 2).
Amatziahu wanted to quell the Edomites, who had been in rebellion against Judah since the time of his great grandfather King Yehoram (II Chron. 21:10). Thinking that victory would depend on the deployment of sufficient manpower, Amatziahu supplemented his 300,000-strong army with a hundred thousand Israelite mercenaries that he hired for the colossal price of a hundred talents of silver, but he had the good sense to defer to God's prophet, who told him not to bring the idolatrous Israelites on his campaign against Edom because victory depends upon God's help and not on numbers. It seems that Amatziahu found it easier to defer to the prophet when he told him God would reimburse him for all the silver he had paid out for nothing.
Amatziahu's campaign against the Edomites was highly successful, and he took hold of one of their great fortresses at Sela ("the rock"), which is identified with the site of Sela (=Petra) in the mountains south east of the Dead Sea about 8 km south of the modern Jordanian town of Tafila. His massacre of 10,000 Edomites on this site brings to mind the curse in Psalms 137:9.
Tragically, Amatziahu showed the same kind of fickleness that had brought his father to ruin, because after his great victory over the Edomites, he proceeded to adopt the idolatry of the defeated nation (v 14 of our present chapter). This time Amatziahu would not listen at all to the rebuke of God's prophet, who left him to find out for himself where his folly would lead him.
The Israelite mercenaries that Amatziahu had initially hired for his war were furious that they had been sent away before having the opportunity of taking part in the conquest and plunder of the Edomites, and they turned this affront into a causus belli, invading and ravaging Judea (v 13). The dare-devil Amatziahu, swelled with pride at his recent victory, decided to take on the mighty warrior king of Israel , King Yo'ash, challenging him to stop his people's cowardly depredations and fight a fully-fledged battle instead. Yo'ash replied that a "cedar" like himself would find a cooperative alliance ("marriage") with the puny "thistle" Amatziahu demeaning, let alone a fully-fledged battle, and he threatened to trample him underfoot. Amatziahu, puffed up with a self-confidence that was sent by God in order to destroy him because of his idolatry, refused to back down, and Yo'ash invaded Judah and beat him on his own territory in Beit Shemesh, going on to tear down a sizeable section of the fortifications of Jerusalem in order to ensure that Judah would not rebel in the future.
Amatziahu's defeat put him in danger from Judean conspirators, and he was forced to flee Jerusalem and live in the town of Lachish in the maritime plain of Philistia, which had been fortified by King Rehav'am. It appears that Amatziahu reigned as king in Lachish for fifteen years while his wife Yecholiah, guardian of their son Uzziah (=Azariah), ruled in Jerusalem (see Rashi on v 27). But the hand of God's vengeance reached Amatziahu even in Lachish , where he lost his life to assassins.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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