Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II KINGS CHAPTER 13
After completing the account of the reign of Jo'ash king of Judah at the end of the last chapter, the narrative now moves back to the kings of Israel who followed Jehu ben Nimshi. In the merit of his uprooting of the house of Ahab (from the tribe of Ephraim), Jehu (from Menasheh) earned the kingship for himself and his offspring to the fourth generation, while the Ten Tribes remained under the leadership of the descendants of Joseph.
Jehu was succeeded by his son Jeho'ahaz, who continued in the path of Jeraboam. This led to the continuing chastisement of Israel by Aram to the point that Jeho'ahaz was left with a greatly depleted army (v 7). The pressure from Aram brought even the idolatrous Jeho'ahaz to entreat God for help (v 4). "And God gave Israel a savior, and they went out from under the hand of Aram (v 5). As Rashi (ad loc.) points out, this "savior" was in fact Jeho'ahaz's son and successor, King Jo'ash of Israel , about whose exploits we hear later in the present chapter and in the next.
To those who are already feeling somewhat dizzy from the confusing succession of names of the kings of Judah and Israel, the present chapter is likely to be even more disorienting, because after its brief account of the exploits of Jeho'ahaz king of Israel (vv 1-9) it moves on to those of his son Jo'ash and appears to conclude the account of Jo'ash's life (vv 12-13) - yet immediately afterwards Jo'ash reappears in the narrative (vv 14-19) and remains a central figure in the narrative in the next chapter which speaks about the exploits of Amatziah king of Judah (ch 14 vv 1-16). Indeed verses 15-16 in the next chapter (ch 14) retell the death of Jo'ash king of Israel in words almost identical to those in our present chapter vv 12-13.
Rashi (on v 13) offers an explanation for the apparent interpolation in our present chapter of verses 12-13 speaking of the death of Jo'ash in between the verses that speak about his idolatry and those that speak about the final illness of the prophet Elisha: "I say that these verses were written only for the sake of making a break so that the account of the death of Elisha should not follow on immediately after the verse speaking about Jo'ash's idolatry".
"AND ELISHA WAS SICK WITH THE SICKNESS FROM WHICH HE WOULD DIE" (v 14)
We may infer from this verse that Elisha also suffered previous illnesses, from which he recovered. This in itself was a miracle - we should not take healing even from colds and chills for granted! "Until the time of Elisha there was no such thing as someone who was sick being healed - until Elisha came and begged for mercy and was healed" (Bava Kama 87a). "Elisha suffered three illnesses: one after setting the bears on the "young children" (II Kings 2:23-4); one after he rejected Gehazi with both hands, and the one from which he died" (Sotah 47a).
It is striking that Jo'ash king of Israel, despite his involvement in idolatry, not only visited Elisha on his deathbed but cried out to him in the very same words that Elisha himself had used to his master Elijah: "My father, my father, chariot of Israel and its riders" (v 14, cf. II Kings 2:12).
The prophet told the king to take arrows, open the eastern window (facing Aram ) and shoot arrows. The prophet cried: "An arrow of salvation for God and an arrow of salvation against Aram ." (v 17). Elisha was teaching the king of Israel to shoot ARROWS OF PRAYER. It was up to Jo'ash to decide how many he would shoot. He shot three - perhaps he thought this would be a sufficient gesture - but he did not understand that in order to accomplish decisive results, our prayers must be repeated persistently time after time after time after time.
[The way in which Jo'ash king of Israel held back against enemies who were determined to destroy his people is somewhat reminiscent of Neville ("Pinhead") Chamberlain, Britain's prime minister until the first year of World War II and architect of the abortive policy of appeasement of Germany: it was said of him that when he would bang his fist down to emphasize a point, he would stop short of actually hitting the table with it. Similarly, Israeli governments of recent years have shown a pernicious indecisiveness and lack of determination against enemies who make no secret of their desire to destroy the country completely.]
Elisha's death was followed immediately by incursions into the Land of Israel by the Moabites - showing that it was the Tzaddik who had been protecting the land during his lifetime.
When an Israelite funeral procession was disrupted by a Moabite incursion, the startled coffin-bearers hurriedly threw the corpse into the cave in which Elisha was buried. "And the man touched the bones of Elisha and came to life and stood on his feet" (v 21). This was Elisha's second revival of the dead (his first was the resuscitation of the son of the Shunemite woman, II Kings ch 4), showing that he truly received a "double portion" of Elijah's spirit since the latter revived only one dead person (I Kings ch 17; Sanhedrin 47a). Some rabbis said that the man who was revived through touching Elisha's bones lived only briefly, walking away only to drop again so that he was buried elsewhere (for "a wicked person should not be buried next to a Tzaddik", Sanhedrin 47a). Others identified him as the father of Shalom ben Tikvah, who was one of the great Tzaddikim of his generation and who would sit at the gates of his city giving water to weary wayfarers, in the merit of which holy spirit came into his wife, who was Hulda the Prophetess (II Kings 22:14; see RaDaK on our present chapter v 21).
Jo'ash king of Israel was a mighty warrior, and through God's mercy on His people for the sake of His Covenant with the patriarchs, Jo'ash succeeded in recapturing cities taken by the Arameans, and he inflicted three major defeats on Aram corresponding to the three arrows he had shot from Elisha's window.
The narrative now moves back from the kings of Israel to those of Judah , telling the story of Amatziah son of Jo'ash king of Judah . During his reign there were signs of regeneration in Judah somewhat parallel to the revival seen in the same period in the kingdom of Israel under Jo'ash, who, as we saw at the end of the last chapter, took back cities that had been captured by Aram . After a period in which Amatziah consolidated his own position in Judah following the assassination of his father (vv 5-6), he went on to campaign against the Edomites whose territories were to the south east of the Dead Sea, and who had rebelled against Judah in the time of his grandfather Jehoram king of Judah (II Kings 8:20). These territories included some highly fertile areas with good supplies of water.
Commenting on the name Yokth-el given by Amatziah to the conquered Edomite stronghold, Rashi (on v 7) states that it merely caused him grating (KIHUY) of the teeth, because "after Amatziah came from striking the Edomites he brought the gods of the children of Se'ir. and prostrated before them" (II Chronicles 25:14). The worst god of all is pride and arrogance - and the over-confidence engendered in Amatziah as a result of his victory over Edom led to his downfall when he "overplayed his hand" against Jo'ash king of Israel (who ruled over TEN tribes). When Amatziah began his campaign against Edom , he hired one hundred thousand Israelite warriors to go with him (II Chron. 25:6) but on the instructions of a prophet he told them to go home, and in anger they started despoiling the cities of Judah . Amatziah took this as a causus belli and challenged Jo'ash king of Israel to fight. Refusing to heed Jo'ash's warnings to stand down, Amatziah was badly beaten in the battle of Beth Shemesh (vv 9-12) and Jo'ash entered Jerusalem, tore down a major section of the city walls (v 13) and pillaged the treasures of the Temple and the royal palace etc. (v 14).
Amatziah lived another fifteen years after this, but he no longer ruled in Jerusalem . The people took his son Azariah=Uzziah as king, while Amatziah retreated to the southern city of Lachish , where he was eventually assassinated.
Jo'ash king of Israel died soon after his attack on Jerusalem , and was succeeded by his son Jerabo'am, who was third in the line of kings of the dynasty of Jehu ben Nimshi. He is known as Jerabo'am II to distinguish him from Jerabo'am son of Nevat who started the rebellion of the Ten Tribes against the House of David during the reign of Solomon's son Rehav'am.
Jerabo'am II was a powerful warrior who restored Israelite hegemony over all the ancestral territories east of the River Jordan and recaptured Aram "according to the word of HaShem the God of Israel that He spoke by the hand of His servant Jonah son of Amitai the prophet." (v 25). This prophecy is nowhere recorded, but according to tradition it was Jonah who had anointed Jehu (Rashi on II Kings 9:1). Just as Jonah's prophecy of doom against Nineveh was overturned when the people of that city repented (Jonah ch 3), so was the evil decree against Israel overturned in the days of Jerabo'am II, and from having been like "dust for grinding up" under the feet of Aram (ch 13 v 7) they were saved by Jo'ash, who retook all the territories they had lost to Aram in the previous generations.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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