Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II KINGS CHAPTER 15
AZARIAH (=UZZIAH) KING OF JUDAH
After Amatziah king of Judah was trounced by Jo'ash king of Israel and fled to Lachish , the people of Judah appointed Amatziah's son Azaria as king, and he ruled for fifteen years in his father's life-time. In II Chronicles 26 and in the prophecies of Isaiah, Azaria is called Uzziah.
Our present text passes over in almost complete silence the great achievements of Uzziah in his reign of over half a century (52 years). Just as Jerabo'am II of Israel subjugated the territories that had rebelled against the kings of Shomron who preceded him, so Uzziah restored the lowlands, coastal areas and south of the country to Judah as they had been in the times of David and Solomon. He established Judean sovereignty over the shores of the Red Sea , building Eilath (Eilat) as a naval stronghold. At the same time as restoring Judah 's boundaries, Uzziah worked harder than any other king with the exception of David to develop and populate settlements throughout his territories, as is attested by numerous archaeological finds in the coastal plains and the Negev .
Just as our text passes over Uzziah's positive achievements in silence, so it does not explain the reason for the sudden visitation of leprosy that afflicted him for the rest of his life (v 5). This is explained in full in the parallel history in II Chronicles 26:16. It was perhaps his very success that led to a pride that brought him - with the most righteous intentions - to offer incense in the Temple Sanctuary in defiance of the strict Torah prohibition against any ZAR (non-priest) officiating as a priest at any offering. As Uzziah stood in the Sanctuary burning incense, leprosy broke out on his forehead and spread to his whole body.
It was on the very day that Uzziah offered incense in the Temple that Isaiah began to prophecy (Isaiah 1:6 - the "death" of King Uzziah mentioned in that verse is a reference to his leprosy). The stormy period of Uzziah's reign and those that followed it until the destruction of the Temple (end of II Kings) is thus one whose inner soul is opened up to us in the books of Isaiah and the great prophets who followed him - Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Rambam (Introduction to Mishneh Torah) traces the chain of transmission of the Torah from Elijah as follows: Elijah handed the tradition to Elisha, who taught Yehoyada the High Priest (II Kings 11-12), who taught his son Zechariah, who taught Hosea, who taught Amos, who taught Isaiah.
In our present chapter we learn that the leprosy-stricken Uzziah dwelled in HA-BEIS HA-HOPHSHIS, "the House of Immunity". The Hebrew root HOPHESH means freedom. This is because Uzziah was now freed from the duties and obligations of kingship, and also because he built himself a house in the cemetery (for a leper is forbidden to come into the camp - the city), and it is written, BE-MEISIM HOPHSHI, "I am free among the dead" (Psalms 88:6; see RaDaK on our present chapter v 5).
THE LAST RULERS OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
Jehu ben Nimshi, who overthrew the House of Ahab, secured the kingship for himself until the fourth generation. The bloody coup against his great grandson Zechariah in full view of the public (v 10) was followed by a whole series of coups, most, though not all of which were very short-lived, as we learn in verses 8-32.
The single most important geopolitical factor in this period was the rise of Ashur ("Assyria") as the major regional player in the Fertile Crescent . Ashur was situated in the upper Tigris valley in the north of Iraq near its borders with present-day Syria , Turkey , Kurdistan and Iran . What began as a small, aggressive, predatory power turned into a major land empire that stretched southwards along the Euphrates and westwards into northern Syria . The Assyrian rulers annexed many lands and turned others into tributary states. They were particularly noted for their use of the method of population transfer and exchange to uproot people from their own ancestral territories and turn them into landless migrants with no real attachment to the earth. This was precisely what the Assyrians did to the Ten Tribes, sending them into an Exile the redemption from which is only beginning to take place in our days.
There is some evidence that back in the days of King Ahab, when the Assyrians were beginning their westward push into Syria , the three major powers in the region - Aram , Hamath and Ahab's Israel - formed a military alliance to repel them, and succeeded for the time being. But by the time of Menahem ben Gadi, who ruled over Israel during the last ten years of the reign of Uzziah king of Judah, the Assyrians under their king PHOOL were again pushing westwards (v 19), and Menahem had to buy them off with a huge bribe that could be raised only through a heavy tax on all his able-bodied men (v 20).
However, the merit of the Israelites was no longer sufficient to permanently stem the Assyrian tide, and by the time of Pekah ben Remalliah, the Assyrian king Tiglath Pilesser captured Gil'ad and the Galilee , sending their Israelite inhabitants into exile. Until today historians debate where they went and where their descendants are to be found today. (See the works of Yair Davidiy, such as "The Tribes: The Israelite Origins of Western Peoples" for challenging ideas and insights on this subject.)
YOTHAM KING OF JUDAH
Yotham son of Uzziah "did right in the eyes of God according to all that Uzziah his father did" (verse 34). Commenting on the almost identical verse in II Chronicles 27:2, Rashi states that Yotham followed only in his father's good ways, which explains the statement by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Succah 45b): "If Abraham our father would take on himself all the sins of the generations up until his time, I would take upon myself the sins of the generations from Abraham until myself, and if Yotham son of Uzziah was with me, we could take on ourselves the sins from Abraham until the end of the generations". As Rashi explains, out of all the kings before and after him, Yotham is the only one to whom the text does not attribute any sin whatever (making a most refreshing change from the rest of the story of all the kings!) This is signified in his very name: YO (God), THAM ("pure, complete").
Despite Yotham's purity, in his days Judah began suffering from new aggressions by Aram and the kingdom of Israel , and in the time of his son, Ahaz king of Judah , these developed into a major scourge.
One of the great ironies and very deep mysteries that we find in the Bible is that often the most righteous of fathers beget the most wicked of sons. In the ensuing stories of the kings of Judah , we find that a Tzaddik - Yotham - had a son who was a major Rasha ("villain") - Ahaz, while Ahaz had Hezekiah, who was a major Tzaddik. Then Hezekiah had Menasheh, who was a major Rasha, though he repented, and after the reign of Menashe's son Ommon, who was a Rasha, came Ommon's son Josiah, who was a major Tzaddik.
At precisely the time that the kingdom of Israel was tottering as a result of its devotion to foreign idolatry, Ahaz king of Judah felt compelled to introduce foreign idolatry into his own kingdom and into the very Temple itself. As we learn in verse 3, "he also passed his son through the fire": in other words, he gave his son over to the priests of Molech, which was considered the most serious of all the abominations of Canaan and is severely prohibited in the Torah (Lev. 20:1-5). It is said that it was Hezekiah who was passed by Ahaz through the fire.
The ensuing invasion of Judah by Aram in alliance with Israel is the subject of the dramatic prophecy in Isaiah chapter 7.
Verse 6 in our present chapter is of great interest because it describes how the Arameans recaptured Eilath (Eilat) at the southernmost tip of Judah 's sphere of influence and drove the YEHUDIM out. For one thing, this is the first appearance of this term in the Bible. Secondly, where the text (KRI) says "and Edomites came to Eilath", the KSIV - the word as written in the parchment scroll - is AROMIM, which not only includes the Arameans but also seems to allude to the Romans. This would provide support for interpreting the numerous Biblical and rabbinic texts that speak of Aram and its role at the end of days as alluding to Edom and their latter-day descendants.
In order to ward off the Aramean and Israelite forces attacking him from the north and in the south, Ahaz turned to Tiglath Pilesser of Ashur and submitted himself to him as a subject nation (v 7), bribing him to attack Aram and Israel. That a king of Judah felt forced to resort to this showed how dire things were on all levels.
Ahaz's ploy had two serious negative consequences. One was that when Ashur knocked down Aram , it simply brought the Assyrians nearer to the Israelite territories whose inhabitants they would shortly be taking into exile. Secondly, Ahaz himself went out to pay his respects to Tiglath Pilesser king of Ashur in Damascus - and discovered a new kind of (idolatrous) altar that so took his fancy that he instructed his High Priest to make a copy of it in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem itself. The remainder of our chapter describes the changes Ahaz made in the Temple in order to accommodate his idolatry.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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