Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II CHRONICLES CHAPTER 20
A LESSON IN ISRAELITE WARFARE
The story told in our present chapter appears only here in Chronicles, with merely the faintest reference to it in the parallel account of the reign of Yehoshaphat in I Kings 22:46. This in no way diminishes the great significance of this story as a teaching about the proper way for Israel to react in the face of attacks by their enemies.
The children of Moab and Ammon who now made war on Judah lived in the territories east of the Dead Sea and the River Jordan respectively. The Hebrew text of v 1 gives the third group of attackers as the AMMONIM, who cannot be identical with the children of Ammon mentioned in the same verse (as it would be redundant to mention them again) and who some commentators suggest might be identified with the ME'UNIM (see Metzudas David ad loc.). However, Rashi, Metzudas David and RaDaK (ad loc.) all bring the Midrash saying that these were actually AMALEKITES from Mt Seir, which is part of the chain of mountains extending from the southern tip of the Dead Sea down to the Gulf of Aqaba , and which was part of the inheritance of the descendants of Esau. The main body of Edomites who lived east of Seir were not directly involved in the present war - it was in the reign of Yehoshaphat's son Yehoram that they rebelled against Judean sovereignty (see next chapter). The Amalekites themselves were a clan of Edomites, and according to Rashi and Metzudas David (ibid.) the reason why they are here called Ammonim is because they disguised themselves in Ammonite costumes and also used the Ammonite language in order to try to conceal their true identity (cf. Numbers 21:1 and Rashi thereon).
King Yehoshaphat was informed that this great multitude had "come. from beyond the sea from Aram ". The "sea" is the Dead Sea, and Aram in this verse is not to be confused with Aram to the northeast of Israel (whose wars with Ahab and Yehoshaphat were the subject of Chapter 18). Rather, it is identified with ARAN (Gen. 36:26; I Chron. 1:42), whose name is preserved in that of the town Jibel Aram about forty kilometers to the east of Aqaba. (Targum on our present chapter v 10 renders Seir as GIVLA.) This invading army was intent on striking at the very heart of Judah and Jerusalem . They either marched around the southern end of the Dead Sea or else they crossed its narrow tongue on rafts, after which they advanced to the ancient strategic town of Eyn Gedi in order to make their way inland through the mountain passes along Nachal Arugot to Teko'a in the heart of Judea .
"And Yehoshaphat was AFRAID." (v 3). What he did was not to summon his military advisors but rather to "set his face to seek out HaShem". He called a national fast, assembling all the people in the Temple in Jerusalem (vv 3-4). The "new court" before which he rose to address the people was not a newly-built addition to the Temple . It was "new" in the sense that - perhaps as part of the campaign to bring everyone to higher levels of repentance and purity - a new decree was made prohibiting the entry of a TVUL YOM (one who had only purified himself from impurity by immersion on that same day) even into the "Levitical Camp", the EZRAS NASHIM or "Women's Courtyard", let alone into the AZARAH itself, the main Temple Courtyard, the "Camp of the Shechinah", which is prohibited by the written Torah (Numbers 5:2-3; see Pesachim 92a and Rambam Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 4:17).
Yehoshaphat was turning to God in the Temple at this moment of national emergency in exactly the way that Solomon had taught in his prayer on the inauguration of the Temple (II Chron. ch 6). Yehoshaphat began his prayer affirming that it is God who rules over all the kingdoms of the nations and who therefore has the power to defeat Israel 's enemies.
"Are you not our God who. gave this land to the seed of Abraham Your friend forever?" (v 7). Rashi (ad loc.) explains Yehoshaphat's argument: "Therefore it is Your obligation to strengthen Israel's possession of the land and to drive these peoples out, because even a king of flesh and blood or indeed any man who has given a gift to his friend only to find someone else coming to rob him of it would surely exert himself in every way to keep the gift in his friend's hand - how much more so should You!!!"
In vv 10-11 Yehoshaphat addresses the present attack of the peoples of Ammon, Moab and Mt Seir (the king was in no way deceived by the Amalekites' disguise), arguing that it exemplified the utmost ingratitude since when the Children of Israel had originally journeyed from Egypt to Israel, they had specifically refrained from attacking the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites (Deut. 2:4, 9 & 19). Yehoshaphat concludes by asking God Himself to judge the invaders, because Israel had no strength in the face of such a multitude.
In the merit of the king's prayers and the national repentance, Yahazi-el the Levite immediately received prophecy that God would fight for Israel . Yahazi-el was one of the Levitical Temple singers from the family of Asaph, and the spectacular salvation that he prophesied was very much bound up with song and thanksgiving to HaShem. Thus immediately after he delivered his prophecy (vv 14-17) Yehoshaphat and all the people prostrated in gratitude while the Levite singers rose to sing praises "in a great voice ON HIGH". Their songs shook the very heavens!!!
The following morning everyone went out of Jerusalem southwards to the wilderness of Teko'a to witness the salvation that they believed with perfect faith would surely come. Yehoshaphat led the way not with weapons but with a call to the people to strengthen their faith in God. Marching before the armed warriors went not an advance contingent of fighters but Levitical SINGERS offering praises and thanksgiving. They sang HODU LA-SHEM KI LE-OLAM CHASDO, "Give thanks to HaShem for His kindness is forever", although they omitted the words KI TOV (".for He is good." Psalms 118:1 etc.) because "the Holy One blessed be He does not rejoice at the downfall of the wicked" (Megillah 10b).
It was precisely when the Levites sang that God sent His salvation by turning the various peoples making up the invading armies against each other. First the people of Ammon and Moab thought that the people of Seir (=the Amalekites) were attacking them from the rear and proceeded to attack them, after which they fought with and slaughtered each other. All that was left for Yehoshaphat and his forces to do was to gather in the spoils of battle. After this great salvation, they did not forget HaShem and His kindness, but went straight back to Jerusalem to the Temple with harps, lyres and trumpets to give more thanks and praises.
[It is interesting that the Biblical commentator MALBIM, R. Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Meir Weiser 1809-79, writes on Ezekiel 32:17 that in the war of Gog and Magog, Edom and Ishmael will join forces to go up together against Jerusalem but that in the course of this campaign they will become embroiled in conflict with one another since their faiths are different and they will make war against each other, and this is how God will judge them. The salvation of Judah from the combined forces of Ammon , Moab and Amalek in the time of Yehoshaphat as described in our present chapter appears to be the prototype of the future salvation as described by MALBIM, making the lessons of our present chapter about how Israel goes to war particularly timely.]
The reign of Yehoshaphat was a golden age compared with the reigns of the kings who came before and after him. However, "As yet, the people had not directed their hearts to the God of their fathers" (v 33) - the repair was far from complete, and the people would have to endure harsh times in order to bring it about. The close of Yehoshaphat's reign was marred by his alliance with Ahab's son Ahaziahu, with whom he embarked on a luckless joint trading venture (vv 35-7).
One of the striking features of the story of the kings of Judah is how a saintly king was often succeeded by a very wicked king, and vice verse. The reign of Yehoshaphat's firstborn son and successor Yehoram was marred from the outset when he killed all his brothers in order to eliminate any possible contenders to the throne. Yehoram was obviously following in the ways of the kings of Israel, being married to the wicked Athaliah, who was the daughter of King Ahab (verse 6 in our present chapter, and see next chapter v 3, where Athaliah is called the daughter of Omri, who was Ahab's father, and who in all probability raised her, see Metzudas David there). Yehoram himself led the people astray into idolatry (v 11).
After Isaac gave his blessings to Jacob rather than Esau, he consoled the latter by saying that if Jacob's descendants would veer from the Torah, Esau would break their yoke from upon his neck (see Rashi on Gen. 27:40). Eight kings had ruled over Edom before there was a king in Israel (ibid. 36:31) but from the time when the Children of Israel became united under Saul , Edom lost its independence and was subject to an Israelite garrison in their territory. Edom remained subject to Israelite rule during the reigns of eight kings: Saul, Ish-Bosheth, David, Solomon, Rehav'am, Avi-yah, Asa and Yehoshaphat. However, when Yehoram led Judah away from the Torah, this opened the way for the Edomites to rebel, and they have not been subjugated until today (our chapter vv 8-10; see Rashi on Gen. 27:40; cf. I Kings 22:48 and Rashi there).
"And there came to him a letter from Elijah the Prophet" (v 12). From the fact that Elijah's disciple Elisha was prophesying independently during the reign of Yehoshaphat (II Kings 3:11) we may learn that Elijah had already ascended to heaven prior to the reign of Yehoshaphat's son Yehoram. In the words of RaDaK on our present chapter v 12: "This letter came after Elijah's ascent to heaven. What happened is that Elijah was revealed through prophetic spirit to one of the prophets and he put in his mouth the words of this letter and told him to put them in writing and to bring the letter to Yehoram telling him that this letter was sent to him by Elijah in order that Yehoram would believe that it came to him from heaven in the hope that he would humble his heart and understand that he had done great evil." [The phrase in verse 12, "A letter from Elijah", MICHTAV MI-ELIAHU, was taken as the title of a major latter-day work on Torah "Hashkafa" - worldview and outlook - by the late saintly Rabbi Eliahu Dessler, 1892-1953.]
The illness that had taken hold of Judah was because they had failed to eliminate idolatry from their midst, and this spiritual illness was reflected in the terrible physical disease that gripped King Yehoram in his very bowels, the organ of elimination, which became so morbid that they literally burst. Yehoram died just as he had lived - BE-LO CHEMDAH, without any joy and delight - and the legacy of turmoil he left after him almost brought the House of David to extinction.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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