Wibble Wednesday: TL;DR (2 Kings 14–15)

God, is this book ever unexciting. We’re into the territory of dull kings doing dull things.

Short snarky summary: Israel and Judah finally have a falling-out. The kings of Israel, who were briefly not terrible, resume being horrible human beings.

I’m starting to get bored with these kings. I think the writer is too, because he’s just zipping through them, telling us to read about what they actually did in The Annals of the Kings of Israel and Judah (and given how uncompelling the highlights reel is, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, as regards these guys, the fact that we no longer have those books is not all that great a loss).

So we start with Amaziah of Judah. He’s judged as equal in nobility tp his father, and given that Daddy Joash reformed temple finances for the greater glory of God, that’s pretty good, although the author takes a dig at how they both countenanced shrine-worship. A side-note: the shrine worship isn’t idolworship, it’s just decentralized Jehovah-worship. It’s the “decentralized” part that sticks in the craw of these Deuteronomists, of course. Anyways, Amaziah kicks off his reign in a notably interesting way, executing the assassins who killed his father (whose motivations I still don’t wholly know). Anyways, Amaziah the Amazing continues his reign of mediocrity by defeating an extraordinary force of Edomites (ten thousand, which in those days was a lot) and capturing a city, and then, flush with victory, challenges Joash of Israel, who suggests he ought to reconsider. Joash was giving good advice there and it’s a shame Amaziah doesn’t take it, since when he presses forward in battle, he’s routed and taken prisoner while Joash besieges Jerusalem and loots the Temple (which I thought was already looted by the Aramites, back in Chapter 12).

As always, I cn never figure out what God’s thinking. Of course, the age of overt Godly manifestation in battle is over, but still, in a war between favorite sons Judah and wayward sons Israel, how does Israel win? That kind of doesn’t square with God’s favoritism, nor does this military fuckup square with the text suggesting Amaziah was an OK king.

Anyways, Joash dies, leaving the kingdom to his son Jeroboam, and some time later, Amaziah is chased out of Jerusalem by a conspiracy which hunts him down and kills him. Between this and the untimely death of his father, I’m starting to think there is a much more interesting story which we are not being told, of these two kings of Judah and their terrible domestic policies that pissed a lot of powerful people off. Amazah’s son Azariah succeeds to the throne of Israel.

Meanwhile, over in Judah, Jeroboam is mostly boring. He is of course as bad as all his fathers, continuing in the sins of the original Jeroboam, the one who originally split Israel off from Judah. Only two notable things are said about the reign of Jeroboam: first, that he liberated a large chunk of Israel (from whom? we’re not told), and that he was empowered to do so by God’s favor. So we’re not quie done with God deciding the outcome of military conflict, making the whole Judah-Israel outcome above that much more perplexing. The other notable aspect of his reign is that this victory is prophesied by none other than… Jonah son of Amittai! Yup, that’s Jonah of swallowed-by-a-whale fame, so we can place that (obviously fictional, even to the sort of Biblical scholar who gives texts the benefit of the doubt) story in time. Of course, it’s been a wile since I tried to place all of this in “real time”, and at this point that’s pretty doable, since we’ve reached the range of kings for whom there’s some archaeological evidence. So we actually know Jeroboam (and Jonah) lived in the early 8th century BCE, thanks to some verifiable ceramics of the period. Incidentally, there was an earthquake around this time, which doesn’t appear in this text at all.

Now we bounce back to Judah, to follow Azariah. He, like his father and grandfather, was regarded as pretty good in the eyes of God. Apparently not good enough, because God struck him with leprosy, and he had to appoint his son Jotham as regent. The justice of God’s actions simply becomes weirder: the medium-evil Israelite kings enjoy peace, prosperity, and victory, while the mostly-good Judahite kings are struck with disease, rebellion, and defeat. Azariah doesn’t do much, what with being a leper and confined to quarters.

Back in Israel (it’s like watching ping-pong!) Zechariah becomes king, and he’s a bad king, just like his father. Finally their sins come due and Shallum (whoever he is) rebels and publicly murders him six months into his reign, claiming the throne. As a footnote, this is apparently the fulfillment of a prophecy given to Jehu that he gets only four generations for his dynasty. Time’s up for the Jehuites.

Shallum doesn’t last long either. After one month the upstart Menahem comes from the countryside and kills Shallum. Menahem is a monster. He marches on Tiphsah (which might be the same place as Thapsacus, an ancient city on the Euphrates, but that’s a hell of a long way into Syria), murders all the people, and “rips open its pregnant women”. Menahem also enacts an onerus emergency tax to pay off the invading Assyrians. Somehow in spite of doing everything wrong (and being a bad king in the same way his predecessors were, esoteric idolworshipping sins having nothing to do with being a horrible human being), he manages to survive to pass the throne on to his son Pekahiah, who after two scant years is overthrown in a palace coup by the courtier Pekah. During Pekah’s reign, the Assyrians come back and conquer pretty much the entire northern half of the kingdom. Pekah himself is done in by a conspiracy and the conspirator Hoshea ascends the throne.

This entire dynastic crisis occurs while Ahaziah is king. Firstly, Ahaziah is king for a long time—upwards of 50 years, and secondly, this action moves quick, with all these kings dying distinctly unnatural deaths of extreme stabbiness. So it’s not until Pekah is on the throne that Ahaziah is formally succeeded by his son Jotham, who has actually been running the nation for a while. Basically nothing at all is said about Jotham: he’s a good king, like his forefathers, but he doesn’t eradicate the shrine practice, he repairs the Temple, &c. Same stuff we’ve already seen from kings of Judah, really..

Next chapter Assyria gets serious. So maybe we have some excitement. Or at least a good exile.

A few weird errors appear in these chapters. Ahaziah is bewilderingly called “Uzziah” in verse 15:13, and 14:28 calls Jeroboam’s realm “Judah in Israel”, which is wrong regardless of how much legitimacy you give to the Israelite independent kingdom.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

One Response to Wibble Wednesday: TL;DR (2 Kings 14–15)

  1. gsanders says:

    I wonder if anyone has done any historical comparison of average reigns / coup counts. Because that seems pretty frequent, even by the standards of the time, but that’s a pretty poorly grounded intuition on my part.

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