Avraham ben Yaakov
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 18
"And Yehoshaphat. allied himself in marriage with Ahab" (v 1). The book of Chronicles was written in honor of the House of David and therefore, unlike the parallel texts in the book of Kings, gives only those details of the story of the kings of Israel that are strictly relevant to that of the kings of Judah . For better understanding of the narrative in the present chapter about King Yehoshaphat's joint military campaign with Ahab against Aram, which ended up with Ahab's death on the battlefield, it is necessary to keep in mind what we already know of the story of Ahab from the book of Kings
Yehoshaphat's marriage alliance with Ahab - Yehoshaphat married his son Yehoram to Ahab's daughter - was itself an aspect of his policy of "outreach", which was evident in the previous chapter in his sending sages with a Sefer Torah on a circuit of all the cities of Judah in order to teach the people Torah. It appears that in reaching out now to Ahab with this marriage alliance and following it up with strategic cooperation despite the fact that Ahab "did evil in the eyes of HaShem more than all who were before him" (I Kings 16:30), Yehoshaphat was hoping to coax the sinful idolaters of Shomron back into the fold of the Torah. In this case Yehoshaphat's outreach activities very nearly cost him his life when he narrowly escaped being killed in battle (vv 31-32 in our present chapter).
Ahab's campaign against the Arameans in Ramoth Gil'ad as described in our present chapter followed his miraculous victories over Ben Hadad of Aram when the latter laid siege to Shomron, after which Ahab allowed himself to be enticed by the wily Arameans into showing entirely misplaced magnanimity in not only forgiving Ben Hadad but even making a covenant with him (I Kings ch 20). Now Ahab found it necessary to go up to the Golan Heights to fight the Arameans again. As we learn from the commentators on our present chapter, he was seduced into entering the battle in which he was to die by the vengeful spirit of Naboth, whom Ahab, at the instigation of his wife Jezebel, had killed on trumped up charges in order to take his vineyard, which the king so coveted (I Kings ch 21).
Ahab asks his in-law Yehoshaphat if he will join him in his forthcoming campaign and Yehoshaphat - anxious to reach out to Ahab - unhesitatingly agrees: "I am as you are and my people are as your people" (v 3). As if to say with a face wreathed in smiles, "You may be idolaters while we are loyal to the Torah, but aren't we all one people?"
Despite going so far overboard in reaching out to the sinful Baal-worshipper Ahab, Yehoshaphat was anxious to hear what the prophets would say about the prospects for the success of the coming campaign. Rashi (on v 5) deduces that the four hundred prophets that Ahab assembled must have been true prophets of HaShem as opposed to the usual run of Ahab's Baal-worshiping Shomronite false prophets, because Yehoshaphat - disconcerted by their unanimous answer - asks, "Is there not here YET ANOTHER prophet of HaShem?" (v 6). Rashi (on v 5) explains that Yehoshaphat had a tradition that no two prophets ever prophesy in exactly the same style and exactly the same words, and this was why he felt uneasy.
Michayahu ben Yimla, the true prophet whose messages Ahab did not like to hear but whom he nevertheless now summoned, may already have been held in prison at this time, because in verse 25 Ahab orders him to be RETURNED into custody (see Rashi on v 26). Tzidkiyahu ben Kenaanah, who made iron horns prophesying that "with these shall you gore Aram " (v 10) and who later struck Michayahu on the jaw, is cited in the Talmud as the archetype of the false prophet who delivers messages he has not received prophetically (Sanhedrin 89a).
In order to hear the prophets, the two kings are seated on their thrones attired in magnificent ceremonial garb in a threshing floor - a large open space - outside the entrance to the city of Shomron . Rashi (on v 9) explains that the reason why our text specifies that they were in this open space is to let us know that the entire spectacle was witnessed by Aramean spies, who would have aroused suspicion had they been found in the city but who could claim that they had stopped by to take a look at the assembly outside the gates because it had caught their attention while they were innocently passing by. These Aramean spies apparently knew better than Ahab which of the prophets was telling the truth and they heard how Michayahu, when pressed, told his vision of all Israel scattered on the mountains like a flock with no shepherd and no master, which clearly indicated that while the people would escape from the battle, it was decreed that Ahab would be killed (v 16 and Rashi ad loc.). This was why the king of Aram gave his troops specific instructions not to fight with any Israelite, small or great, except the king (v 30) - "targeted assassination"!
In Michayahu's vision of the celestial court in judgment against Ahab (vv 18-22), the RU'ACH ("spirit") that stands before HaShem offering to entice him into battle was the soul of the murdered Naboth (Rashi on v 20). In order to avenge his killing, this spirit was permitted to inspire even the truth prophets with a false message so that Ahab would go into the battle and meet his death.
Sensing the danger he was in, Ahab attempted to disguise himself so that he would not be recognizable to the Arameans, but no human ploys can thwart the will of God and an archer innocently fired an arrow that penetrated the gap between Ahab's helmet and body armor, killing him. Interestingly, Rashi on verse 33 argues that the archer must have been an Israelite because Ahab's identity was not visible while the Arameans had been instructed to attack no-one except the king. Yet on I Kings 22:34, Rashi states that the archer was the Aramean captain Na'aman (whom Elisha cured from leprosy, II Kings ch 5).
King Yehoshaphat was fortunate to escape the battle in Ramoth Gil'ad alive and return to Jerusalem , where Yehu ben Hanani castigated him for helping the wicked and showing love to those who hate HaShem (v 2). But as Yehu's prophecy shows, God prefers to look at a person's good side rather than dwelling on the bad, and He would not abandon Yehoshaphat.
The king did not follow the example of his father Asa or that of Ahab, both of whom chafed against prophetic rebuke (II Chron. 16:10 & 18:25ff). On the contrary, it stirred Yehoshaphat to greater heights of spiritual endeavor. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that one of the greatest dangers to those who engage in Torah outreach is that of falling prey to the negative influence of the very people to whom they reach out, whose evil tends to attach itself and cling to them. Their way to "burn out" this evil influence is through MISHPAT, judgment, scrutinizing themselves with the utmost honesty and truth (Likutey Moharan I, 59). This seems to throw light on why Yehoshaphat, who responded to Yehu's rebuke about his alliance with the wicked by embarking on a massive personal Torah outreach campaign throughout the whole of Judah from the south to the north (v 4), then appointed JUDGES in every city in the kingdom (v 5) teaching them eternal lessons about true MISHPAT (v 6). If the judge feels tempted to twist his judgment against the weak and in favor of the wealthy, he must remember that it is the judgment of heaven that he is twisting, and that everything he does is under the continuous scrutiny of God, who knows the innermost secrets of the heart (Rashi and Metzudas David on v 6). Yet if the judge wants to step aside so as to evade the awesome responsibility of his role, he is not allowed to do so (Sanhedrin 6a).
In Jerusalem too Yehoshaphat established a strong judiciary "for the judgment of HaShem and for controversies" (v 8). In this verse, the "judgment of HaShem" refers to financial cases while "controversies" are capital cases and suits for damages. In verse 10, "controversies. between blood and blood" are questions about whether a certain killing was carried out intentionally or unwittingly (see Rashi on these verses).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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