Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
II KINGS CHAPTER 23
* * * II Kings 23:1-9 and 21-25 are read as the Haftara in Diaspora communities on the Second Day of Pesach * * *
The great cleansing performed by Josiah in the Temple , Jerusalem and its environs shows the extent of the proliferation of idolatry in Judah in the previous generations. As discussed in a number of earlier commentaries, the idolatries involved were not just a matter of prostrating to some piece of wood or stone: they were backed up by elaborate theologies and sophisticated astrology, divination, occult arts etc. We get a picture of Jerusalem in the period just before Josiah as a kind of international center of pantheistic multiculturalism. Our present chapter enumerates virtually every kind of idolatry and divination proscribed in Torah sources. From v 13 we see that the cult centers built around Jerusalem by Solomon's wives were still there. Thus the flaw of idolatry that led to the destruction of the Temple had its roots in the foreign marriages of the very king who built it, even if his original intention was to bring the realm of the unholy under the dominion of the holy.
All these idolatrous cult centers were destroyed by Josiah in a mission of national cleansing that even took him to Beit El and Shomron, the main idolatrous centers of the fallen kingdom of Israel . Josiah's destruction of the altar of Beit El and its priests was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Ido when Jeraboam first sacrificed there (I Kings 13:2) and the false prophet who detained Ido after his mission was wise to ask to be buried next to him, as his bones were thus saved from being dug up and burned in the merit of Ido (ibid. vv 31-2; our chapter vv 17-18).
After all this cleansing, King Josiah held a jubilant Pesach in Jerusalem the like of which had not been seen since the days of Samuel prior to the division of the kingdom. Josiah struck a Covenant with the people to serve God faithfully and follow His commandments (v 3).
Yet after all this: "But HaShem did not turn from the burning of His great anger against Judah . over all the provocations with which Menasheh provoked Him" (v 26). Why did He not when under Josiah the people renewed the Covenant with God? In the words of Metzudas David (ad loc): "Although Josiah repented with all his heart and taught the people the ways of HaShem, secretly the people still held to the provocations of Menasheh, wanting to serve idols just like him."
JOSIAH AGAINST PHARAOH NECHO
The campaign against Pharaoh Necho by Josiah was a literally fatal error which had the same effect as the various schemes based on mistaken calculations that were employed by the last kings of Judah who succeeded him, all of which simply brought the destined exile closer.
By the closing years of Josiah's reign, the empire of Ashur was crumbling, and initially the king of Judah showed great skill in taking advantage of the situation, expanding the boundaries of his kingdom until in his eighteenth year he was able to take his campaign of cleansing from idolatry up to Shomron itself, which had previously been an Assyrian client state, and he ruled over all of the Land of Israel (see II Chron. 34:33). He may also have held sway over territories east of the River Jordan, as had Hezekiah in his time.
The decline of Ashur also filled Josiah's powerful southern neighbor Egypt with renewed imperial aspirations. Egypt hoped that by lending a hand to the embattled Assyrians against the rising star of Babylon , she herself would be able to establish her own supremacy over the entire swathe of territory west of the Euphrates all the way to Egypt (see Ch 24 v 7). Pharaoh Necho wanted to strike down the Babylonians at Kharkhemish (today called Jerablus), a strategic stronghold in the upper valley of the Euphrates near the present-day Syrian-Turkish border about 100 km north east of Aleppo . In order to advance to Kharkhemish, Pharaoh Necho had to march his troops all the way along the coastal plain of the Land of Israel before turning east some way south of Haifa in order to make his way inland and up into Syria.
The rabbis stated that the reason why the saintly King Josiah went out to try to stop him was because he sought to bring the Land of Israel to a messianic state of peace where the promise would be fulfilled: "And no sword shall pass through your Land." (Leviticus 26:6). Josiah interpreted this verse to mean not only that no enemy would come up against Israel but also that no foreign army would pass through the Land even if they were only on their way elsewhere (see RaDaK on v 29).
In order to intercept Pharaoh Necho as he made his push from Israel's coastal strip inland, Josiah went up to Megiddo, which is in the hills running along the south side of Emek Yizre'el (by Route 65 about halfway between Um Al-Fahm and Afula). There Josiah met his death, which was a disaster for Judah as he had no worthy, righteous successor. Josiah's death was mourned in a special elegy composed by the prophet Jeremiah (II Chron. 35:25; Lamentations ch 3).
Initially the people of Judah chose Yeho-ahaz to succeed Josiah even though he was not his oldest son. The reason they ANOINTED him (v 30) was precisely because he had at least one rival with stronger claims to the throne: it may be that the leaders of Judah hoped that Yeho-ahaz would be a more assertive leader on the international stage than his older brother.
Pharaoh Necho meanwhile had been temporarily successful at Kharkhemish and came back to Egypt via Israel , where he installed Yeho-ahaz's older brother El-yakim as king, renaming him Yeho-yakim. However, Egypt retained her influence for no more than four years, after which Nebuchadnezzar struck Pharaoh, who thereafter did not any more go out of his land, as we read in the following chapter.
The last kings of Judah appear to have been divinely inspired to misread the new geopolitical reality that was taking shape with the decline of Assyria, believing that they could defy the rising star of Babylon by depending on Egypt , which also wanted to thwart Babylon . In this way they deafened their ears to the message of Jeremiah and the other prophets, who were consistently warning not to depend on the "broken reed" of Egypt and not to meddle in international politics but rather to accept the divine decree of exile and submit to Babylon (see Jeremiah ch 25). The prophets also emphasized that if the king swore allegiance to a foreign power with an oath in God's Name, he was obliged to keep his oath and forbidden to scheme and rebel, which would be a desecration of the Name.
"But by the mouth of God it was against Judah , to remove him from before Him." (v 3). Pharaoh Necho was struck by Nebuchadnezzar and could not help Judah even if he had ever wanted to. Yeho-yakim plotted against Nebuchadnezzar, who captured him to take him to Babylon . During the journey Yeho-ahaz was tortured and died. He was succeeded by his son Yeho-yachin, but the latter ruled no more than three months in Jerusalem before being taken into exile by the Babylonians together with a total of ten thousand "mighty warriors" (v 14) consisting of three thousand of the choicest members of the tribe of Judah (including the greatest sages and scholars, see Rashi ad loc.) and seven thousand members of Benjamin and the other Ten Tribes who had returned from exile under Sennacheriv.
The exile of King Yeho-yachin, also known as Yehoniah, is the exile mentioned in Megillas Esther (2:6) which eventually brought Mordechai and Esther to Shushan. This was eighteen years before the destruction of the Temple . Those who accepted the divine decree and moved to Babylon did so with dignity and soon succeeded in establishing thriving communities devoted to Torah and prayer in their place of exile.
As king over those who remained in Judah (where the Temple still stood for the moment) Nebuchadnezzar now appointed Yeho-achin's UNCLE, who was the son of Josiah and a brother of the late king Yeho-ahaz (see RaDaK at length on II Kings 23:29). The Babylonian king hoped that the new king would remain loyal, changing his name to TZIDKIYAHU as if to say, "God will justifiably exact judgment against you if you rebel against me". The new king swore allegiance, but even as he did so he was already plotting to rebel.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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