Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
I KINGS CHAPTER 15
With the death of Solomon's son Rehav'am, the latter's son Aviyam (also called Aviyah - II Chron. 13:1) became king of Judah . Our text states that Aviyah followed in the sinful ways of his father Rehav'am, who "did evil for he did not prepare his heart to seek out HaShem" (II Chron. 12:14). Yet despite the recurrent failings of the kings of Judah , David's line was never extirpated: this was his reward for his outstanding and unwavering loyalty to God. Although there were many ups and downs in the history of the House of David, all were part of the long-drawn out process of BIRUR ("sifting and selection") that is to lead eventually to the final ascendancy of MELEKH HAMASHIAH.
The exact nature of the evil for which the various kings are criticized in the Bible is often hard to pin down definitively and can sometimes only be inferred from the most subtle of hints in the text, some of which are elaborated in the Talmud and Midrashim. Our most important source for a wider perspective on many of the laconic comments contained in our present text lies in the parallel account of the exploits of the kings of Judah and Israel in the Book of Chronicles, which often provides crucial supplementary details.
Thus our present text passes over Aviyah's war against Jeraboam in complete silence, but it is described in great detail in II Chronicles ch 13, which records Aviyah's public call to the tribes of the northern kingdom to submit themselves again to the hegemony of Judah on the grounds that Judah alone had remained faithful to the Torah tradition under which only the Levites and the Cohen-priests descended from Aaron were authorized to minister to God in Jerusalem and nowhere else. On the face of it Aviyah's speech seems impeccably righteous, yet the Midrash Seder Olam points out that he scathingly denounced the prophet Ahiyah HaShiloni as one of the "worthless people" who supported Jeraboam (II Chron. 13:7); he also publicly castigated the tribes of Israel for keeping the golden calves (ibid. v 8) - yet after all his criticisms, the Midrash says that when he came to Beit El and saw them, he almost joined in worshiping them, which is why he was "hit" by Jerabo'am's armies even though he eventually subdued them (ibid. v. 20, see Rashi ad loc.)
"AND ASA DID RIGHT. LIKE DAVID HIS FATHER" (v 11)
King Asa is the first example of the various righteous descendants of King David (such as Hezekiah and Josiah etc.) who succeeded in bringing about a greater or lesser spiritual revival during their reigns. Although our text (v 10) states that Asa's mother was Maachah daughter of Avishalom, the commentators agree that she was actually his grandmother, the wife of Rehav'am and mother of Asa's father Aviyah (see v 2). It is unclear whether she was actually the daughter of David's rebellious son Absalom, but this is quite possible as she bore the name of Absalom's mother. In the time of Asa she was the Queen Mother, and she had evidently played a prominent role in spreading idolatry in Judah (v 13), having set up a MIFLETZES. Until today this Hebrew word literally means a "monster", but the sages (Avodah Zarah 44a) darshened it as a compound of MAPHLIA ("wondrous", "astonishing") and LEITZANUSA ("mockery"). According to Rashi (on v 13) she attached a large phallus to her idol and made daily use of it as a dildo.
Despite the fact that she was the Queen Mother and Asa's own grandmother, the king displayed his Davidic righteousness in showing no compunction about removing her from her royal position and grinding up her monster and casting it into a valley where nobody would have any benefit from the dust.
Our text notes that in spite of Asa's whole-heartedness with God, he did not remove the BAMOTH ("high places"). It is necessary to bear in mind that throughout almost the entire turbulent 410 year history of the Kingdom of Judah , the Holy Temple actually functioned every day and remained the main focus of the people's spiritual life. Ever since the inauguration of the Temple in Jerusalem , it had been forbidden to offer sacrifices to HaShem anywhere else: this is an explicit Torah prohibition that carries the penalty of KARES (early death and spiritual excision, see Lev. 17:3ff). The sages associated the practice of sacrificing at a BAMAH with pride and arrogance, as if the celebrant was reluctant to submit to the authority of the Cohen-priests and wanted to be his own priest. The fact that for most of the period of the kings of Judah the BAMOTH were not eliminated indicates that the blemish of pride and arrogance persisted behind this outer display of religiosity and devotion.
Our present text does not mention the invasion of Judah by Zerah HaKushi ("Zerah the black man") during the reign of Asa (II Chron. 14:8ff). This was apparently an invasion from the south west by hordes of Nubians and Libyans, which Asa heroically repelled with the same faith and trust in God displayed by the Judges (ibid. v 10). Unfortunately Asa failed to display similar faith and trust when confronted by a serious blockade on Judah by Ba'sha king of Israel (our present chapter v 17). Asa took the Temple and royal treasures and sent them to the king of Aram as a bribe to make trouble for Ba'sha on his northern flank in order to force him to dismantle his blockade against Judah (vv 18-21). The ploy worked, but Asa was severely castigated for paying a foreign king to attack his Israelite brothers. According to Seder Olam this war took place thirty-six years after the death of Solomon. Solomon had married Pharaoh's daughter in the fourth year of his reign and lived for another thirty-six years. The decree of the division of his kingdom was originally intended to last only thirty-six years after his death, and had Asa trusted in God alone to save him from Ba'sha's blockade, the rabbis said that he would have been able to restore his hegemony over all the tribes of Israel . His bribing of the king of Aram was a lapse of faith that lost him the opportunity to restore David's united kingdom, which will not return until the coming of Mashiach (see II Chronicles 16:7ff, Seder Olam).
Asa sought to build a strong Judah , and even called bridegrooms from their marriage celebrations and Torah scholars from their study halls in order to fortify its cities (I Kings 15:22; see RaDaK). For the sin of interrupting the studies of the scholars - the supporting "legs" of the Torah - Asa was punished with illness in his legs (this is said to have been an extremely painful "podagra" or gout, which felt like needles pricking into raw flesh, Sota 10b), but instead of going to the prophets to find out what he needed to correct, Asa went to the doctors instead - and found no cure (II Chron. 16:12).
The concluding section of Chapter 15 turned from the history of Judah to that of the northern kingdom, summarizing the brief two-year reign of Jeraboam's son Nadav, who in fulfillment of Ahiyah's prophecy was overthrown in a bloody coup while campaigning against the Philistines (who despite having been routed by David were now able to raise their heads again as God's staff of chastisement on account of the Israelite idolatry).
The Biblical narrative about the succession of bloody military coups and regime changes that characterizes the history of the northern kingdom may make the leading actors seem like nothing more than a bunch of brutal gangsters. In order to correct this impression, we would do well to note the comment of our rabbis that the wicked king Jeraboam was able to expound the book of Leviticus in one hundred and three different ways, while Ahab - who prostrated to the Baal in Sidon and built Temples for Baal and Ashera worship in Shomron (vv 31-3 in our present chapter) - could expound Leviticus in eighty-five different ways (Sanhedrin 103b). It would appear that these wickedly wise leaders must have had the power to totally entrance their Israelite constituencies with the profoundest kabbalistic theorization, despite the fact that the Israelites had always shown themselves to be exceptionally sharp and critical people.
Ba'sha had destroyed Nadav and with him the entire house of Jeraboam. Ba'sha was succeeded by his son Eylah, but this inept drunkard was killed in another coup after only two years (v 9), and the coup leader, Zimri - an army general - went on to wipe out the whole house of Ba'sha. Zimri's rule lasted no more than seven days (v 15) as it did not find favor with the people, who preferred another general -- Omri - who was busy fighting the Philistines ("security is everything"). Omri left off fighting the Philistines and laid siege to Tirzah - a town about 10 kilometers north of Shechem (Nablus) that had served as the capital of the northern kingdom since the days of Jeraboam (see I Kings 14:17). After an initial division among the people as to whether to go after Omri or his rival Thivni son of Ginath (v 21), the Omri faction gained sway and after the death of Thivni, Omri ruled over all the Ten Tribes.
"Why did Omri attain the kingship? Because he added one great city in the Land of Israel " (Sanhedrin 102b). This was Shomron (verse 24 in our present chapter), which was about 15 kilometers north east of Shechem and which subsequently became the royal capital of the northern kingdom. Archeological remains found at the site of Shomron attest to the very great magnificence and cultural sophistication of this capital city of the kings of Israel .
Omri continued in the path of Jeraboam, refusing to allow the Israelites to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem (until just before the exile of the Ten Tribes, heavily armed police were posted on all the paths leading to Jerusalem with instructions to break the bones of anyone who tried to go up). Yet even the evil of Jeraboam was exceeded by Omri's son Ahav, who added to the existing worship of Jeraboams golden calves the new element of Baal worship imported from the Canaanite city-state of Sidon , the daughter of whose king - the accursed Jezebel - Ahab took as his wife.
If Ahab "did evil IN THE EYES OF GOD more than all that were before him" his evil was apparently not seen at the time by most of the human Israelites: this paradoxical figure, who was like a brother (AH) and a father (AB) to all his people, was a lover of the Torah - he could darshen Leviticus in 85 ways - and a supporter of Torah scholars. He knew and spoke with Elijah the Prophet, and no less than Jehoshaphat king of Judah entered into a marriage alliance with him, marrying his sister. Yet despite all this, "he wrote on the gates of Shomron, 'Ahab denies the God of Israel'" (Sanhedrin 102b) - "and he therefore has no share in the God of Israel" (ibid.).
The ultra-sophisticated spiritual decadence into which Israel had sunk by the time of Ahab was epitomized by the rebuilding of Jericho despite Joshua's severe curse against anyone who would dare to do so (Joshua 6:26). Jericho was in the territory of Benjamin , who had remained faithful to the House of Judah - which indicates that Ahab himself was not necessarily the initiator of this despicable project; rather, it was Ahab's influence that created the climate in which it could come about. It is said that after Hi-el of Beit El, who rebuilt Jericho, lost all his sons one by one because of Joshua's curse, King Ahab and Elijah the Prophet went to visit him as he sat in mourning, and it was there that they had the conversation in which Elijah delivered the grim prophecy with which the following chapter opens (Rashi on I Kings 17:1).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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