Christian Churches of God
The Kings Continue in Idolatry
(Edition 2.0 20090207-20090516)
When Israel and Judah continued to sin God used other nations to correct and punish them through war and captivity. This paper has been adapted from chapters 132-134, Volume VI of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
The Kings Continue in Idolatry
Amaziah, Jehoash's son, became the next king of Judah. He was only twenty-five years of age at the time, but he used more wisdom as king than his father had used in the latter years of his reign. He didn't manage to stop his people from false worship at various places, but he re-established greater worship at the temple. Meanwhile, he tracked down the murderers of his father, and had them executed (2Kgs. 14:1-6; 2Chr. 25:1-4).
One of Amaziah's ambitions was to organize a new, large army to replace the one that had been devastated by the Syrians. The king succeeded by building it of choice young men of twenty years and up from the nation of Judah. It reached three hundred thousand. But Amaziah wasn't satisfied with that figure. He wanted a larger army so that he could go to Edom and be certain of exacting the tribute the Edomites had refused to pay since King Jehoram's time. He also hired a hundred thousand men of Ephraim out of the ten-tribed nation of Israel for a hundred talents of silver in payment.
With a well-trained force of four hundred thousand men, Amaziah felt that he was ready for certain victory over the Edomites. Just as he was about to take his army on the planned conquest, a man of God came to talk to him.
"God has sent me to warn you not to use the hundred thousand men you bought to add to your army. The Lord is not with Israel – not even the people of Ephraim. If you take them with you, you will be defeated by the Edomites. It is God who determines the outcome of a battle, and not the number of men involved."
"But I've already paid a fortune to these men to be a part of my army," Amaziah pointed out.
"God can more than make up for it by giving you great spoils," the prophet said.
So Amaziah dismissed the troops that had come to him from Ephraim and sent them home. They were furious with Judah and left in a great rage (2Chr. 25:5-10).
Amaziah departed with his three hundred thousand men to the Valley of Salt where they killed ten thousand men of Seir. The army of Judah also captured ten thousand men alive, and took them to the top of a cliff and threw them down so that all were dashed to pieces (2Kgs. 14:7; 2Chr. 25:11-12).
Meanwhile, the troops from Ephraim decided to take from Judah what they might have earned if they could have stayed in Amaziah's army. At the same time they decided to take back several towns a former king of Judah had taken from Israel in battle (2Chr. 13:13-20). Therefore, on their way to the north they vengefully attacked those towns in northern Judah, killing three thousand men and taking everything of value they could carry (2Chr. 25:13).
Having whipped Edom into a state of subjection, Amaziah and his army returned home in triumph. The king brought back the gods of the people of Seir and set them up as his own gods.
Meanwhile, in Israel...
After King Jehoahaz was slain, his son Jehoash had become king of the ten tribes. He wasn't any more obedient to God than his father, although when he heard that Elisha was seriously ill he went to visit him because he believed that Elisha could prevail upon God to help Israel. By that time Joash had built up a much larger army, by which he hoped to gain victory over the Syrians. Elisha told him that he would triumph over the Syrians in three battles (2Kgs. 13:14-19). Israel's freedom from the Syrians would thus be accomplished to fulfil the promise God had made to King Jehoahaz years previously (2Kgs. 13:4). That was the aging prophet's last prediction. Joash saw to it that the prophet Elisha was honourably entombed in a crypt not far from Samaria.
Later, when another body was brought to the crypt for burial, the bearers saw a mounted band of Moabite marauders coming across the plain. So they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. Fifteen major recorded miracles had been performed through the prophet while he lived. The sixteenth occurred even after his death, to help Israel learn the lesson of what God's power can do (2Kgs. 13:20-21).
Elisha's prediction that Joash would triumph over the Syrians was fulfilled not long after the prophet's death. The Israelites won the three battles Elisha mentioned and regained the towns the Syrians had captured. By this time King Hazael had died. His son, Ben-hadad, led the Syrian troops against Joash's army without success. Israel's victory wasn't because of the obedience of the Israelites. It came about because of Jehoahaz's prayer and because God had promised Abraham that He would not entirely cast away His people Israel (Gen. 13:15; 28:13-15).
Meanwhile, God sent a prophet to warn Amaziah, king of Judah, because of his idolatry.
“Why do you consult the pagan gods that could not save their own people from your hand?” the man of God asked Amaziah (2Chr. 25:14-15).
"Have we appointed you an adviser to the king?" Amaziah said to the man of God. "Keep your advice to yourself or you could find yourself on the sharp end of a spear."
"I won't say more than to repeat that God will destroy you because you have turned to idolatry," the man of God said (2Chr. 25:16).
After Amaziah conferred with his advisers, he sent this challenge to Joash, king of Israel: “Come, meet me face to face” (2Chr. 25:17).
But Joash’s reply began by comparing Amaziah to a thistle and Joash to a cedar tree: Out of the forest in which the cedar grew came a fierce animal. The animal trampled the thistle because it made a ridiculous demand of the cedar.
"I have heard how proud and arrogant you are since you conquered the Edomites," Joash's reply went on. “Stay home! Why ask for trouble that will result in harm to you, your army and your nation?"
But Amaziah would not listen. This was all in accordance with God's plan to hand them over to Johash. Amaziah had his opportunity to give up idolatry and spare himself when the prophet warned him.
So Joash, king of Israel and Amaziah, king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh in Judah (2Chr. 25:18-21). As Amaziah had requested, the two kings were now face to face.
And so Israel defeated Judah and Joash captured Amaziah. He went to Jerusalem, broke down the wall of Jerusalem from the Ephraim gate and took gold and silver and all the articles found in the temple and in the royal palace. He also took hostages and returned to Samaria (2Kgs. 14:12-14; 2Chr. 25:22-24).
Although he had been defeated in war, had lost most of his personal wealth, had been humiliated and disgraced and had become unpopular with a great part of his people, Amaziah managed, with difficulty, to stay in power in Judah. Joash, ruler of the ten tribes, died not long after invading Jerusalem. He was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel. For fifteen more years Amaziah remained the ruler of Judah, but with increasing opposition. It is likely Amaziah was taken prisoner and released on the death of Joash.
They conspired against him in Jerusalem so he fled to the town of Lachish, but they sent men after him and killed him there. Amaziah's body was carried back to Jerusalem, where he was buried with the former kings of Judah (2Kgs. 14:15-20; 2Chr. 25:25-28).
Years before Amaziah's death, the king of Israel, Joash, had been succeeded by a son, Jeroboam, who followed in the ways of the other King Jeroboam who had begun his reign a hundred and twenty-eight years previously (2Kgs. 14:16, 23-24).
After the death of Joash, who had triumphed over the Syrians, those ancient enemies again returned from the east to reduce the northern nation Israel to a weakened state. God inspired Jeroboam, in spite of his wrong pursuits, with the desire to shake off the control of the Syrians and restore the boundaries of Israel to where Joshua had proclaimed they should be, according to God's instruction.
This inspiration started out as a desire for power and revenge. Jeroboam's ambition was greatly strengthened when a prophet named Jonah disclosed to him that he, the king, was destined by God to bring Israel out of its wretched state and expand it once more almost to the size it was when Solomon reigned.
Believing that the God of Israel would protect him in whatever he did to develop Israel, Jeroboam's confidence was increased. Like so many people of that time – as well as today – he respected and even believed God, but at the same time he chose to worship only the gods he could see.
Over the years, through many surprise attacks and battles, Jeroboam took back all the cities, towns and land that had been captured by Syria. He freed the Israelite prisoners, took the Syrian capital Damascus, and recaptured the city of Hamath, far to the north. From there southward to the east coast of the Dead Sea he reclaimed all territory that God had given to the whole of Israel in Joshua's time (2Kgs. 14:25-27).
Jeroboam became the most powerful ruler of the ten tribes since Israel had become divided. The larger and more prosperous the northern kingdom became, unfortunately, the more careless the people became in their attitude toward God.
This was the last time the northern kingdom, the House of Israel, was to experience such national welfare and strength. The years of that kingdom were numbered. Jonah, the prophet who had predicted that Jeroboam would beat Israel's enemies back, probably knew what Israel's future would be, and that God was allowing the nation to be strong for a time before it would cease to be a nation unless the people turned from idolatry.
Jonah must also have known that one way God was making the Syrians conquerable was by allowing Assyria, a nation to the east, to war with the Syrians. This growing country was gradually swallowing up surrounding regions and becoming powerful at the same time Israel was gaining strength.
Like the people of Israel, the people of Assyria became more corrupt as the nation became more prosperous. The inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, were especially lawless. God was displeased with them. However, He was to use them later in dealing with Israel and so He produced a witness to them in the form of a prophet that was to warn them and give them the chance of repentance. God does nothing except that He warns those people beforehand (Amos 3:7). He sent the prophet Jonah to them to warn them to repent or He would destroy the city. They were warned so that any innocent people would have a chance to escape.
Jonah was surprised when God told him that he should make the long trip to Nineveh to warn the Assyrian people what would soon happen, but the more Jonah thought about it, the less enthusiasm he had for the task. He reasoned that if the people repented after his warning them, God might spare them and he, Jonah, would be branded a false prophet and lose his life.
Through Jonah, God had warned the Israelites about their idolatry, but they had refused to listen, and did not repent. Now God intended to warn a Gentile people. If they were to heed and be spared, it would be a sobering warning for Israel. Indeed that was one of the object lessons of the mission. Jonah knew what these people would do to his people Israel and did not have the heart for the task.
The prophet knew that he couldn't escape from God, but he reasoned that if he could quickly get out of Israel, God might choose another prophet there to go to Nineveh. He made a hurried trip to the seaport of Joppa on the coast of Dan. There he found a sailing vessel about to set out for Tarshish. That point was about as far as he could get from Israel as fast as possible. Jonah obviously hoped that God would forget about him. Furthermore, it was in the opposite direction from Nineveh. After paying his fare, he went aboard (Jon. 1:1-3).
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. However, Jonah had gone below deck to rest and fell into a deep sleep. Later he awakened to find the ship's captain roughly shaking him.
The captain said, "How can you sleep through this storm? If it gets any worse, we'll capsize! Whoever your God is, pray to Him for your life! We've already had to throw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship!"
"Someone on this ship is causing a curse on us!" the superstitious sailors complained to the captain. "We must draw lots to find out who it is!"
The captain agreed, not knowing how right the sailors were. Jonah drew the lot, through God's influence, to point out that he was the cause of the trouble (Jon. 1:4-7).
"Who are you?" the sailors asked. "Where did you come from? What do you do?"
"I am a Hebrew and I worship the God of heaven who made the sea and the land," Jonah answered. "I was foolishly trying to escape from God because of a difficult thing He required of me."
"What should we do to you to make the sea calm down?"
"Throw me off the ship!" Jonah replied. "The wind will abate as soon as I am gone! I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you".
However, the men were not keen to kill someone in their charge, so they tried to row back to land, but the sea grew wilder and wilder. Then they cried to the Lord God to spare them and forgive them for what they were reluctantly about to do. Only then did they take hold of Jonah and throw him overboard. Then the raging sea grew clam.
The sailors were so shaken by this miracle that they offered a sacrifice to God and made vows to Him (Jon. 1:8-16). Even though these sailors had their own gods (v. 5), they were obviously willing to accept the power and existence of other gods and, from this witness, the power of the God of Israel.
Then the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. This time sequence became known, prophetically, from the time of Christ, as the “Sign of Jonah”.
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God that he would be delivered from his captor. Then the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land (Jon. 1:17; 2:1-10). Jonah was thus given a second chance. This placement of Jonah in the belly of the great fish provided the symbolism of the effective death and resurrection of God’s servant.
In this way, Jonah’s experience was a type of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. About eight and a half centuries later, Jesus pointed out that there would be only one sign that he was the son of God. That sign was that he would be in the grave for three days and three nights, before being resurrected, just as Jonah was held inside the fish for three days and three nights before being restored to life and to his duties in the service of God. Both Jonah and Jesus Christ died and were resurrected three days and three nights later.
However, there is much more to the story than just three days and three nights in the belly of the fish and of Christ being in the tomb. The periods of prophecy and of the Witness and the forty days for repentance are fundamental to the symbolism, and also represent the times of the Church in the plan of God (Mat. 12:38-41; Lk. 11:29-32). See also the paper The Sign of Jonah and the History of the Reconstruction of the Temple (No. 13).
When the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time and told him to go to Nineveh, he realised, at last, that it was futile to go against God's will. As mentioned, God's purpose was to use Jonah to warn that city of impending destruction.
Nineveh was a great city. It is assumed that it required a three-day journey to cross. On the first day Jonah entered the city and moved in towards the centre on that day’s journey. On the second and third days he delivered his message as ordered by God. He proclaimed his message. "I have been sent by the God of Israel to warn you that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days unless you repent of your sins and evil doing! "
The Sign of Jonah was not only that he was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, but also of the period of the three days; one day in the journey and the last two in the message delivered to Nineveh. This was mirrored by the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Christ in the first year, and then the ministry of Christ from after the Passover of 28 CE, when John was placed in prison, to the Passover of 30 CE when Christ was crucified on Wednesday 5 April 30 CE.
It appears the Ninevites turned to God and believed, as they declared a fast, and all of them put on sackcloth (Jon. 3:1-5).
When the news reached the king he too put on sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then the king sent out a decree that they all give up their evil ways and fast and call on God to change His mind about destroying them. Even their animals had to be covered with sackcloth and refrain from eating and drinking.
By this time the forty days Jonah had mentioned had almost expired. However, when God saw that the people repented of their evil ways He did not bring down the destruction He had threatened (Jon. 3:5-10).
Meanwhile, Jonah left and sat down at a place east of the city, where he made himself a shelter, with a gourd that God had grown, to await what would happen to the city (Jon. 4:5).
Those were supposed to be the fatal moments, but nothing happened. By the time the sun came up next morning, the prophet was disappointed. He was resentful and even angry because God had failed to do what He had threatened to do to Nineveh (Jon. 3:10).
He prayed to God, "Back when you first told me to go to Nineveh I was afraid that this thing would happen," Jonah said. "That's why I was so quick to run away. I knew that you are merciful, kind and slow to anger, and that you very likely would decide to spare the Ninevites if they showed any desire to repent. Now take my life. It is better for me to die than live" (Jon. 4:1-3).
"Have you any right to be angry?” the Lord replied (Jon. 4:4).
Jonah was miserable. Besides his mental distress, apparently the shelter he built did not provide enough shade, so God provided a vine to grow over Jonah to ease his discomfort. Jonah was happy about this (Jon. 4:6).
Next day the plant withered and its leaves shrivelled, and the prophet was again exposed to the heat and wind and he grew faint. He didn't know that God had purposely caused a worm to chew the vine so that it withered. Jonah wanted to die.
Then the Lord said to him, "Do you feel that you have good reason to be angry about the vine?”
"I do," Jonah answered. "I'm troubled enough to die!" (Jon. 4:7-9).
"You had nothing to do with causing the plant to grow," the Lord said, "but you had a feeling of sorrow for it because its life was so brief. You believe that I was unmerciful in allowing the plant to die so soon. If I should have spared that plant, shouldn't I also have spared the great city of Nineveh, with its thousands upon thousands of men, women, innocent children and helpless animals?" (Jon. 4:10-11)
There is no record in the Scriptures of what happened next to Jonah. There is strong evidence that a monument uncovered in the ruins of Nineveh in recent years had been built to honour this prophet. Evidently he turned out to be a national hero or at least an object of great respect by the Assyrians of that time.
Eventually, in later years, as Jonah feared and as God indicated would happen, the Assyrians did come against Israel because the Israelites wouldn't turn from idolatry. That invasion meant the end, for many centuries, to the combined nationality of the northern ten tribes of Israel, most of the people God had chosen for a profound purpose in this world and the world to come (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 14:2; 26:18-19; 1Pet. 2:9).
We continue with the Bible stories in the paper Israel Goes to War Against Judah (No. CB148).