2 Kings 14:1–22 (NIV)✞: Amaziah King of Judah
In 11:21–12:21 we were presented with the reign of Joash, who was a good king. (At least, as far as the book of Kings is telling us; as mentioned in that previous passage, Chronicles paints a slightly different picture.) We now read about his son Amaziah, who is also a good king – at least, about as good as his father was:
1 In the second year of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel, Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan; she was from Jerusalem. 3 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash. 4 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.
We might recall from that previous passage in 11:21–12:21 that Joash had been assassinated. One of Amaziah’s first acts as king is to have executed the officials who’d assassinated him, though the author(s) make it clear that he only has them killed, not their children, because Deuteronomy 24:16 (NIV)✞ prohibits putting children to death for the sins of their fathers.
After this he goes on to defeat the Edomites, with the author(s) making a point of the fact that he renames one of the Edomite cities from Sela to Joktheel, a name which seems to have stuck for the rest of the history of the people of God (at least until the book of Kings was written). The spiritual importance of this victory (if any) is lost on me—though the ESV Study Bible refers us to some details about the city’s importance when it came to trade—but clearly Amaziah is feeling pretty good about himself at this point because he decides to challenge Jehoash, the king of Israel, in battle.
Jehoash, however, doesn’t take Amaziah very seriously:
9 But Jehoash king of Israel replied to Amaziah king of Judah: “A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ Then a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot. 10 You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”
Amaziah won’t listen, however, so Jehoash attacks, and Israel defeats Judah pretty soundly:
12 Judah was routed by Israel, and every man fled to his home. 13 Jehoash king of Israel captured Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Joash, the son of Ahaziah, at Beth Shemesh. Then Jehoash went to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate—a section about four hundred cubits long. 14 He took all the gold and silver and all the articles found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace. He also took hostages and returned to Samaria.
(If it matters, 600 cubits is about 180 metres, or 600 feet.)
In a brief interlude verses 15–18✞ deviate from the “pattern” of the book of Kings just a little bit; in the middle of this section about Amaziah the author(s) tell about the death of Jehoash in Israel, and his son Jeroboam succeeding him as king, and then comes back to Amaziah to indicate that he remained king for another fifteen years after Jehoash’ death.
Amaziah’s reign ends in assassination, just as his father’s did:
19 They conspired against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish, but they sent men after him to Lachish and killed him there. 20 He was brought back by horse and was buried in Jerusalem with his ancestors, in the City of David.
21 Then all the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in place of his father Amaziah. 22 He was the one who rebuilt Elath and restored it to Judah after Amaziah rested with his ancestors.
Why did “they” assassinate Amaziah? The text doesn’t say, though the ESV Study Bible has a pretty good hypothesis:
2 Kings 14:19 they made a conspiracy against him. Nothing is said of any reprisals by Amaziah’s son against the conspirators (15:1–7; contrast 14:5–6), perhaps implying that Azariah was himself one of the mysterious “they.” Amaziah was bound to be unpopular, given the consequences for the city of Jerusalem from his military folly. The city of Lachish where he died was the most important fortified city in Judah after Jerusalem, defending one of the east-west valleys that gave access to the Judean Plateau and Jerusalem from the coastal plains.
ESV Study Bible
My main takeaway from this passage is that it is once again impossible to take easy lessons away from the stories in the Old Testament. We tend to expect a pattern in the book of Kings whereby a king does right by God is and thus rewarded or a king doesn’t do right by God and is thus punished, but the book of Kings isn’t interested in morality lessons—at least, not the simplistic kind we’re expecting—it’s just telling the history of God’s people. So we have a king, Amaziah, who actually does pretty well in terms of obedience yet fails as a king on multiple occasions, which is probably why he was assassinated.
Yes, over the long course of time God treats His people according to their obedience to Him, but the whole point of the book is that the people are not obedient to Him. There are short interludes where they do pretty well (though never perfectly), but the general trend is one away from God, not toward Him. So we might read a passage like this in which a king who’s actually pretty good meets with a lot of failure and wonder why it’s turning out that way, but if we step back and see the entire history of God’s people at a macro level we see a blip not a trend.
Is it possible that the people could have obeyed God properly? Given the entirety of the Christian Bible, I would say no, it wasn’t; even at the very best of times—for example, under King David—God’s people never followed Him perfectly.
Actually, no, let me not call the reign of King David the high point: in the period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, that’s probably the high point in terms of obedience! Trying to learn the lessons of all of the Scriptures God’s people try to double down on obedience, which leads to the rise of people like the Pharisees, and the pendulum swings the other way: instead of being disobedient they become legalistic, attempting to obey every aspect of God’s law but often missing the point of it, and definitely not having a loving relationship with Him. (That’s likely an overly simplistic viewing of “Second Temple Judaism,” it’s not a period of history I’m overly familiar with.) I’m sure they would have said they were being much more obedient than the people in the book of Kings, but Jesus disagreed.
And now that we have the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we’re still no better at obeying God now than His people were then. It’s exactly why we needed a Saviour! We shouldn’t see Amaziah’s failures as a king and wonder what’s going on, we should see someone who’s in over his head, [mostly] trying to follow his God but failing in other ways, and see a picture of ourselves.
Judah and Israel
Sometimes these two nations were friendly and other times they were enemies; they are obviously enemies in this passage. I’m wondering if it’s because of the recent history in which Amaziah’s father Joash had to rid Judah of Baal worship, something the author(s) imply (or outright state, I can’t remember) has come from Israel.
If we take Jehoash’ words to Amaziah literally—and I do, in this case—Jehoash is being kind to Amaziah, knowing that Judah can’t win in battle against Israel. I’m guessing that Amaziah is counting on the LORD to provide a victory; perhaps he sees Israel’s sin as being so great that Judah needs to come in and punish them. However, there is no indication that any of this is prompted by the LORD – quite the opposite, given the outcome! Not only does the LORD not give him a victory, he loses all of the treasures that had been in the Temple!