Christian Churches of God

No. CB148

 

 

 

Israel Goes to War Against Judah

 

(Edition 1.0 20090207-20090207)

 

Under King Ahaz, Judah was so corrupted by idolatry and the detestable ways of the pagan nations that God gave them into the hands of the king of Syria and also into the hands of the king of Israel. This paper has been adapted from chapters 134-137 Volume VI of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.

 

 

 

 

Christian Churches of God

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Email: secretary@ccg.org

 

(Copyright ă 2009 Christian Churches of God, ed. Wade Cox)

 

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Israel Goes to War Against Judah


 


We continue here from the paper The Kings Continue in Idolatry (No. CB147).

 

Uzziah/Azariah, King of Judah

During the reign of Jeroboam, king of the ten northern tribes of Israel, the son of Amaziah began to rule the kingdom of Judah. His name was Uzziah, also known as Azariah, and he was only sixteen years old when he became king. He looked to God for direction, through Zechariah the prophet, and developed into a wise, courageous ruler whose ambition was to strengthen his kingdom and improve the welfare of the people. He built Eloth and restored it to Judah after the king died (2Kgs. 14:21-22; 15:1-2; 2Chr. 26:1-5).

 

God prospered Uzziah and gave him success against the Philistines, the Arabs and the Meunites. Even with his relatively small army the king overcame the Philistines, who had been a growing threat to Judah since the invasion of the ten tribes of Israel. The fortifications of Philistia's major cities were destroyed, including those of Gath, Ashdod and Jabneh. Uzziah's men then built towns near those cities, so that the Philistines could be kept under control through garrisons established in the new towns. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt (2Chr. 26:6-9).

 

Convinced that his nation was at least temporarily safe from attack from three directions, Uzziah set about improving conditions for raising sheep and cattle. He built towers in Jerusalem and fortified them. He also built towers in the desert and dug many cisterns, because he had large herds and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands. Before long the king's army had grown to 307,500 well-trained and splendidly equipped troops under the command of 2,600 able clan chiefs (2Chr. 26:10-15).

 

Over the years Uzziah became powerful, prosperous and quite respected because he had honoured and obeyed God. Unhappily, there came a time when he began to think of himself as a very special person. In spite of the wisdom he had used for so long, good judgment began to fade the more he thought of himself as greatly superior to other men.

 

One day Uzziah entered the temple of God to burn incense. Azariah the priest and eighty other priests followed him in and confronted him and said: “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense” (Ex. 30:7-8; Num. 16:1-40; 18:1-7). Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and you will not be honoured by God” (2Chr. 26:16-18).

 

Uzziah, holding a smoking censer, became angry. While he was raging at the priests before the incense altar, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah and the other priests saw he had leprosy they hurried him out. Uzziah was eager to leave because the Lord had afflicted him.

 

Uzziah, also called Azariah, remained leprous until his death several years later at the age of sixty-eight (2Kgs. 15:1-7). Until then, because of his contagious disease, he had to live apart from others. Even under these conditions he continued to be regarded as the ruler of Judah, although others, including his young son Jotham, performed most of the regal functions. Having died a leper, Uzziah wasn't entombed in a royal sepulchre, but was buried in a field near the regal tombs.

 

Unlike some other kings of Judah who had followed God and had later fallen into idolatry, Uzziah worshipped only the one true God all his life. His deplorable downfall came from believing that he was above the Law and that he was too great a man to have to observe certain special rules God had established for the service of the temple (2Chr. 26:19-23).

 

Meanwhile, in Israel

For six months, during Judah's prosperity under Uzziah, Jeroboam's son Zachariah ruled the ten tribes, called the House of Israel. He continued the idol-worship his father had followed. He was so indifferent to the welfare of the people that he was very unpopular with them. He was murdered before a public gathering by a man of high rank named Shallum, who had already persuaded high officials and the guard to support him. No one tried to arrest Shallum for this brazen act. He made himself king immediately (2Kgs. 15:8-12).

 

Zachariah's death ended the reign of the descendants of Jehu, king of Israel over a hundred years previously. God told Jehu that because he had been obedient in destroying the family of disobedient Ahab, his descendants for four generations would rule Israel (2Kgs. 9:1-10; 10:30-31.) Zachariah was of the fourth and last generation. More generations from Jehu probably would have reigned if Jehu hadn't allowed the customs of Jeroboam I to remain the established religion.

 

Menahem

Menahem, commander of the army of Israel, went from Tirzah up to Samaria and attacked Shallum and killed him. Shallum had been in power only a month when this happened (2Kgs. 15:13-15).

 

Menahem proclaimed himself ruler, then set out again on his military mission. He went back to Tirzah, a former capital of northern Israel and the city he had been besieging when he returned to Samaria. At that time Menahem sacked Tiphsah and all who were in it and all its territory from Tirzah on because they did not open the gates to him. As well, he ripped open every pregnant woman.

 

This was an example of the violence and cruelty that characterized Menahem's rule during the next ten years. Besides being murderously vengeful, the king maliciously insisted on the worship of idols, even though he had knowledge of Israel’s True God (2Kgs. 15:16-18).

 

Pul, the king of Assyria, came against the land and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and strengthen his hold on the kingdom. Menahem exacted this money from all the wealthy men in Israel, each of whom had to give fifty shekels. So the king of Assyria withdrew (2Kgs. 15:19-20). If the king had chosen to stand against the invaders, Israel probably would have been defeated. It was a matter of disaster being postponed to the time God had picked to bring the Assyrians again to Samaria.

 

Pekahiah and Pekah

Menahem died shortly after this event. He was succeeded by his son Pekahiah, who continued in the idolatry of his forebears. His rule was cut short, after only two years, when one of his captains burst into his palace, along with fifty men, and assassinated Pekahiah.

 

This captain, Pekah, whose name was much like that of his victim, seized the throne to hold control of the ten tribes of Israel for the next twenty years, during which he carried on in the idolatry of the rulers who had preceded him (2Kgs. 15:21-28).

 

While the Israelites were having all this trouble, the Jews fared much better because they had better leaders.

 

Jotham, King of Judah

In the second year of Pekah's reign over Israel in Samaria, Uzziah's son Jotham, at twenty-five years of age, came into full rulership of Judah. Happily for his kingdom, he lived and ruled by God's Laws during his sixteen years as king. Although he worked to clean out idolatry from Judah, it was so deeply ingrained in many of the people that he never succeeded in removing it (2Kgs. 15:32-35; 2Chr. 27:1).

 

Jotham remembered his father's lesson and didn't go into the temple. Like Uzziah in his better years, Jotham built fortifications and observation towers in places where they were needed. He continued to improve Jerusalem's walls, as well as part of the temple. His ambition was to maintain and improve the projects his father had started.

 

Because of his loyalty to God, most of the years of Jotham's reign weren't marred by war. The king's first battle was with the Ammonites, whom the army of Judah defeated. As vassals, the Ammonites paid tribute of a hundred talents of silver, as well as over 10,000 cors of wheat and the same amount of barley. [Note: 10,000 cors is probably about 62,000 bushels or 2,200 kiloliters.]

 

For three years they made the same payment to Judah. So Jotham became mighty because he walked in the ways of the Lord (2Chr. 27:2-6).

 

At that time the army of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, was overrunning much of the territory of the kingdom of Israel. This was no small concern to Jotham, who any day expected to learn that the Assyrians were heading toward Judah, also.

 

The Assyrian Threat

According to ancient Assyrian records, the invaders went almost to the northeastern border of Egypt, by-passing the towns and cities of Judah and Philistia. They returned, but the only places they spoiled were in the territory of the ten tribes of Israel. The Jews were spared, but so were the Philistines. God possibly spared the Philistines so that they could be used to trouble Judah during the reign of the next evil king.

 

The Assyrians finally left Israel, but not without taking thousands of Israelites as captives and leaving Pekah with only half his territory. All the land east of the Jordan River was taken, never to be regained by any king of Israel. The Assyrians also took over many of the towns and cities of Syria (2Kgs. 15:29; 1Chr. 5:25-26). Thus Assyria became the common enemy of Israel and Syria; and Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of Israel, became allies in a plan to regain the wealth and strength they needed.

 

That plan was to capture Judah's capital, Jerusalem. If that could be done, all of Judah could be theirs. But both Israel and Syria had become so weakened in manpower that the forces they sent against Judah were not strong enough to make inroads (2Kgs. 15:37). Even if the armies had been twice as large, they wouldn't have succeeded until the time God chose to allow them to succeed.

 

Jotham died at the relatively young age of forty-one to leave the leadership of the nation of Judah to his son Ahaz, twenty years old (2Kgs. 15:38; 2Chr. 27:6-9). From then on conditions grew worse in Judah. Ahaz, following the bad example of all the kings of Israel, believed that it was foolish to worship a God he couldn't see. He chose to worship objects that were visible, no matter how lifeless. He saw to it that images of Baal were produced and made available to his subjects to worship. He even sacrificed his son in the fire following the detestable rites associated with heathen gods (2Kgs. 16:1-4; 2Chr. 28:1-4).

 

The armies of Israel and Syria again came against Judah, this time to successfully converge on Jerusalem. They besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him (2Kgs. 16:5).

 

At that time the king of Edom recovered Elath for Edom and drove the men of Judah out from there (2Kgs. 16:6).

 

The departure of the Syrians and Pekah's army didn't mean the end of trouble for Ahaz. The Philistines had learned that the army of Judah had been weakened by recent attacks. Their army captured towns and villages in southwestern Judah. About the same time the Edomites invaded Judah from the southeast and captured and carried away people from the small towns (2Chr. 28:17-19).

 

Ahaz, needed help, so he sent messengers to Tiglah-Pileser king of Assyria to ask for military aid to ward off the Jews' enemies – the Syrians, Israelites, Philistines and Edomites. As payment for the help he hoped to receive, Ahaz stripped the temple of most of its gold and silver and special treasures and sent them to the king of Assyria. For good measure Ahaz added some of the valuable objects from his palace (2Kgs. 16:7-8; 2Chr. 28:20-25).

 

Again the best warriors of Judah readied themselves to defend their capital. But Rezin, the Syrian king, had no intention of repeating a futile attack against such strong fortifications. His army moved safely on past Jerusalem, then struck some nearby towns. The Syrians took thousands of captives and loot, leaving the towns in ruins.  The Syrians returned victoriously to Damascus, where their captives became slaves (2Chr. 28:1-5).

 

Even this tragedy for Judah failed to move Ahaz to turn from idolatry. Just when he was most discouraged and fearful, he received the exciting report that the Assyrians had attacked and captured Damascus, and that Rezin, king of the Syrians, had been killed (2Kgs. 16:9).

 

The king of Judah went to Damascus to meet the Assyrian king. But Ahaz returned to Jerusalem with the bleak outlook of having to deal with several enemies, particularly that of King Pekah of Israel, without the aid of a strong ally. He needed help desperately, but he preferred not to look to God for it. He decided to sacrifice to the Syrian gods in an effort to appease them and win them over to helping him (2Chr. 28:23).

 

Ahaz was so obsessed with this ridiculous idea that before he left Damascus he sent orders to Urijah, high priest at the temple at Jerusalem, to build an altar like one he had seen in Damascus and to set it in front of God's altar toward the temple gate. Messengers brought drawn plans for the altar to Urijah, a high-ranking servant of God, who built an altar in accordance with the plans that King Ahaz had sent and finished it before the king returned (2Kgs. 16:10).

 

Obviously the high priest wasn't dedicated to the duty of his high office, or he would have refused to build the pagan altar. It had always been common knowledge among the Israelites that they should not make sacrifices on any altar other than God's altar, even if it were made after the same pattern (Josh. 22:11-30).

 

As soon as Ahaz returned to Jerusalem and saw the altar he approached it and presented offerings on it (2Kgs. 16:11-13).

 

There followed other presumptuous and idolatrous deeds by Ahaz. He gave orders to the high priest that the main objects that had to do with ceremonial worship of God should be moved to different locations around the temple area (2Kgs. 16:14). To add to that, the king of Judah sealed the temple up and decreed that altars should be constructed in the major cities and towns of the land to establish national worship of Syrian gods (2Kgs. 16:15-18; 2Chr. 28:24-25).

 

Therefore, the Lord his God handed him over to the king of Syria and they defeated him and took many of his people captive and brought them to Damascus.

 

He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel who inflicted heavy casualties on him. In one day Pekah killed a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in Judah. They also took captive from Judah 200,000 wives, sons and daughters and a great deal of plunder, which they carried back to Samaria.

 

However, the prophet named Oded was there and he met the army when it returned to Samaria.

 

"This is against God's will," Oded firmly stated. "You didn't win a victory over Judah because you were more righteous or more battle-wise. God gave you the ability to defeat Judah in war to punish them for their sins. But capturing these people was a cruel and unnecessary deed. They are our brothers and sisters because of our common ancestors who came out of Egypt. To regard them as servants is wrong. If you keep them in bondage, God's wrath will come on Samaria. The sins of Israel are already too great and too many to have this thing added. Release them so that they can return to Judah" (2Chr. 28:8-11).

 

Then some of the leaders said, "We of Israel have done many things to anger God. If we take these people as servants, who knows what punishment will come to us? Do not bring those prisoners here."

 

Therefore, soldiers left the captives and the plunder before the leaders of the assembly. Those chosen by name took the prisoners and from the plunder they clothed all those who were naked. They also gave them food and drink and healing balm. All the weak ones were put on donkeys and the captives were taken to their own people at Jericho.

 

Instead of thanking God, who had made it possible through His followers in Israel, Ahaz continued in idolatry throughout the remaining years of his life. He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the royal tombs of the kings of Judah. Obviously God decided which kings, because of their obedience to Him, should be buried in the royal sepulchres, and caused those who had charge of the burials to make the proper decisions (2Chr. 28:26-27).

 

Meanwhile...

Years before the death of Ahaz, King Pekah of Israel was murdered according to the plan of a man named Hoshea, who had schemed to do away with Pekah so that he could become ruler (2Kgs. 15:30; 17:1). Civil war followed. Hoshea had to ask the Assyrians for help to restore him to the throne.

 

Hoshea followed in the evil ways of the preceding kings, but not with the idolatrous fervour most of the others had practised.

 

During his reign the Assyrians, led by King Shalmaneser, again came to Samaria. Hoshea didn't have the military strength to resist tribute. He submitted to Shalmaneser and gave him costly gifts and the promise of regular tribute and even allegiance (2Kgs. 17:2-3).

 

However, Shalmaneser became angry when he discovered that Hoshea was a traitor. For he had sent envoys to the king of Egypt and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria. He seized Hoshea and put him in prison (2Kgs. 17:4).

 

The Bible doesn't mention Hoshea much after that. Whatever his final fate, the fate of his kingdom, comprised of the ten tribes of Israel, was worse. Shortly after Hoshea was imprisoned, Shalmaneser invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid seize to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria (2Kgs. 17:5-6; 18:9-11).

 

Thus, two hundred and fifty-three years after the twelve tribes had divided into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the kingdom of Israel abruptly ceased to exist. The people had again and again rejected God's rules for the best way of living and had turned to idolatry (Jdg. 2:11-13; Ps. 106:34-41; 78:56-66). God had repeatedly warned them, through priests and prophets, what would happen if they continued in idolatry (2Kgs. 17:7-13; Jer. 7:24-26); but most of the Israelites wouldn't listen (Dan. 9:6).

 

Now, at last, the Israelites were dragged away from their homes and into slavery in foreign lands even beyond Assyria (2Kgs. 17:18, 20-23; 18:11-12). God had long been patient (Ps. 78:25-41; 86:15); but now His patience gave way to anger because He knew this part of the people He had chosen to be the greatest of nations had broken their promise to the Creator, to keep His Commandments (Ex. 19:6; 24:7; Josh. 24:20-22; 2Kgs. 17:14-17).

 

Scattered across hundreds of miles of territory and mingling with people of heathen nations, and later wandering through many lands, the people of Israel eventually lost their identity as Israelites and Sabbath observers, and in time came to be regarded by others as Gentiles. What had once been a great nation was swallowed up, to be known for a very long time only as the "Lost Ten Tribes".

 

Hundreds of years previously, after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, God promised them that if they would worship only the Creator and observe all His Laws, they would receive all the promises made to Abraham because of his obedience, and would become the most prosperous and powerful of nations (Lev. 26:1-13; Deut. 28:1-14; Jer. 7:22-23). At the same time God warned them that if they rebelled, they would fall into slavery to their enemies, and would remain a scattered, landless people for a period of seven prophetic times and also seven times in severity (Lev. 26:14-35; Deut. 28:15-29; Josh. 24:13-20).

 

A prophetic “time” is a year of twelve thirty-day months. Seven times, or 2,520 days, was equal to 2,520 prophetic years – a day for a year (Num. 14:34). So 2,520 years passed after the second section of the House of Israel was taken captive in 721-718 BCE, before the Israelites regained their greater measure of their full inheritance, freedom and wealth. By then they had completely lost their identity. They had migrated or had been taken to distant islands and continents.

 

The Jews were only of the House of Judah, and not nationally of the House of Israel, although racially they are Israelites in the sense that they were once a part of ancient Israel before the twelve tribes split into two kingdoms.

 

God's promise of prosperity for Israel, headed by Ephraim and Manasseh, was made to Abraham because of his obedience (Gen. 26:1-5). The fulfillment of that promise ceased when Israel was taken captive and wasn't again carried out until Israel's period of punishment was ended. It didn't come about because the Israelites were great, or worthy of it, but because God always keeps His promises (Deut. 7:6-8).

 

Modern Israelites, having become rich and powerful nations, have attributed their blessings to their own resourcefulness and even to their being "Christian" nations. However, these blessings come from God especially to carry out His promise. Actually, they are far from being true Christian nations. The wrong use of their wealth and power, because they lack the wisdom and obedience that God wants them to have, is draining them of the very strength that they have been given by their Creator (Deut. 28:15, 32-33; Jer. 10:23-25).

 

Look also at the site www.Abrahams-Legacy.org for the story of the blessings and the future of Israel.

 

We will continue with the Bible stories in the paper King Hezekiah Restores the Temple (No. CB149).

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