Amaziah

(Strength of Jah)

(2 Kings 14:l-20; 2 Chron. 25)

Contemporary Prophets: Several unnamed (two in 2 Chron. 25).

“A king ready to the battle.”—Job 15:24

Amaziah was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jehoaddan ( Jehovah-pleased) of Jerusalem.” He evidently reigned a year jointly with his father (comp. 2 Kings 13:10; 14:1; 2 Chron. 24:1) during the latter’s last sickness, when the “great diseases” were upon him.

“And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.” “Yet not like David his father,” it is said; “he did according to all things as Joash his father did.” Just like this is the lack of heart-devotedness in the children of God. He allowed the “high places” to remain, and the people sacrificed and burned incense upon them.

“Now it came to pass, when the kingdom was established to him, that he slew his servants that had killed the king his father. But he slew not their chil- dren, but did as it is written in the law, in the book of Moses, where the Lord commanded, saying, The fathers shall not die for the children, neither shall the children die for the fathers, but every man shall die for his own sin.” (See Deut. 24:16.) He made a good beginning in thus adhering closely to the law. Happy would it have been for him and for his kingdom had he continued as he began. “As soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand” appears to imply that the state affairs were somewhat unsettled at his father’s death. What follows confirms this thought. “Moreover Amaziah gathered Judah together, and made them captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, according to the houses of their fathers, throughout all Judah and Benjamin.” He began to reorganize the scattered army. “And he numbered them from twenty years old and above, and found them three hundred thousand choice men, able to go forth to war, that could handle spear and shield.”

An expedition against Edom was probably in his mind in this organization of his forces. And trusting more to “the multitude of a host” than to the Lord, “he hired also a hundred thousand mighty men of valor out of Israel for a hundred talents of silver.” But God does not want mercenaries in His battles—neither then, nor now. So “there came a man of God to him, saying, O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee; for the Lord is not with Israel, to wit, with all the children of Ephraim. But if thou wilt go (i.e., with them), do it, be strong for the battle: God shall make thee fall before the enemy: for,” he adds, “God hath power to help, and to cast down.” He may retain them if he wishes, but he has the consequences set before him. God knew the corrupting influence this body of Ephraimites would have upon the army of Judah. “Shouldest thou help the ungodly?” the prophet Jehu asked Jehoshaphat. Here Amaziah reverses the order, and would have the ungodly help him. And, besides, “the children of Ephraim” were not particularly famous for their courage. “The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle,” was the inglorious record back of them (Ps. 78:9). But Amaziah thinks of the advance wages already paid to these hireling warriors: “But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army (lit, troop, or band,) of Israel? And the man of God answered, The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.” It is a fine word for any child of God who may find himself in a position compromising the truth, and who cannot see his way out without serious pecuniary loss. “The Lord is able to give thee much more than this”; and if He does not more than make it up in temporal things, He will repay it in what is infinitely better—in those spiritual things, which are eternal. And “to obey is better than sacrifice,” anyway and always.

Amaziah profited by the word, and separated the mercenaries, and sent them home again. “Wherefore their anger was greatly kindled against Judah, and they returned home in great (lit., fierce) anger.” This refusal of their assistance only makes manifest their real character. They had long ago turned away from Jehovah; what did they care now for His honor or the good of Judah? So they avenge their supposed insult by falling upon defenceless cities on Judah’s northern frontier; they plunder them, and slay mercilessly three thousand of their own flesh and blood! Such could not help in God’s army then; neither can men with selfish motives be helps in Christ’s cause now.

“And Amaziah strengthened himself, and led forth his people, and went to the valley of salt (south of the Dead Sea), and smote of the children of Seir ten thousand. And other ten thousand left alive did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.”

This seemingly cruel treatment of conquered enemies is related without comment. We know nothing of the attendant circumstances, nor the cause of Judah’s invasion. They lived in the cold, hard age of law (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth, nail for nail”), and we must not measure their conduct by the standard we have received from Him who came “not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” A hundred years ago men were hung in enlightened “Christian” England for stealing sheep. Voltaire seems never to have condemned the English for it. Yet what government, for a like offence, would take a human life to-day? Amaziah’s army may have believed themselves justified in meting out such horrible punishment to the Edomites. But we neither judge nor excuse them for their terrible act. God has left it without comment. It was not God’s act, but Amaziah’s. He “took Selah (Petra, the rock, Edom’s capital) by war.” (“It lay in a hollow, enclosed amidst cliffs, and accessible only by a ravine through which the river winds across its site.”— Fausset) , “and called the name of it Joktheel ( the reward of God) unto this day.” He seems to have looked upon this captured city as God’s repayment for the one hundred silver talents lost upon the worthless Ephraim-ites. And does not God ever repay His obedient people with abundant increase?

But success with Amaziah (as with most of us) puffs him up. Inflated with his subjugation of the Edomites, he impudently challenged the king of Israel to meet him in combat, saying, “Come, let us look one another in the face.” The offended Ephraimites had indeed wantonly wronged some of his subjects; yet for this the king of Israel was less responsible than Amaziah himself, who had hired them to enter his army. He “took advice,” we read, in doing this. Like his father Joash, he was led into disaster by “the counsel of the ungodly.” But it was of God, for the punishment of his idolatry. For, before this, when “Amaziah was come from the slaughter of the Edomites,” we read that “he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them. Wherefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Amaziah, and he sent unto him a prophet, which said unto him, Why hast thou sought after the gods of the people, which could not deliver their own people out of thy hand?” A child might understand such reasoning. “And it came to pass, as he talked with him, that the king said unto him, Art thou made of the king’s counsel? forbear; why shouldest thou be smitten? Then the prophet forbare, and said, I know that God hath determined to destroy thee, because thou hast done this, and hast not harkened unto my counsel.” So God let him take other counsel (since he refused His own), that led to his ruin.

To Amaziah’s rash challenge the king of Israel makes a scornful reply by the language of a parable. He says: “The thistle that was in Lebanon (Amaziah) sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon (himself, Joash), saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon (Jo-ash’s army), and trode down the thistle.” And he adds, “Thou sayest [to thyself], Lo, thou hast smitten the Edomites—and thy heart lifteth thee up to boast. Abide now at home; why shouldest thou meddle to thy hurt, that thou shouldest fall, even thou, and Judah with thee?” Good, sound advice, this. “But Amaziah would not hear; for it came of God, that He might deliver them into the hand of their enemies, because they sought after the gods of Edom. So Joash the king of Israel went up; and they saw one another in the face, both he and Amaziah king of Judah, at Beth-shemesh, which belongeth to Judah. And Judah was put to the worse before Israel, and they fled every man to his tent. And Joash the king of Israel took Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Joash, the son of Jehoahaz, at Beth-shemesh, and brought him to Jerusalem, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem from the gate of Ephraim to the corner gate, four hundred cubits.” This is the first time the walls of Jerusalem had ever been injured. It was on the north—the only side from which the city is easily accessible. Josephus (IX, 9, §9) states that Joash gained entrance into the city by threatening to kill their captive king if the inhabitants refused to open the gates. The victorious Joash now took all the gold and silver, and the holy vessels, and all the treasures that were found in the temple and the king’s house; he took hostages also, and returned to Samaria.

Amaziah lived more than fifteen years after his humiliating defeat and capture by the king of Israel. He died by violence, like his father and grandfather before him. “Now after the time that Amaziah did turn away from following the Lord they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem; and he fled to Lachish: but they sent to Lachish after him, and slew him there. And they brought him upon horses, and buried him with his fathers in the city of Judah,” or of David. His “turning away from following the Lord” was probably his final and complete apostasy from Jehovah God of Israel; not when he first bowed down to the gods of Seir, which was the beginning of his downward course. Lachish was the first of the cities of Judah to adopt the idolatries of the kingdom of Israel (“the beginning of the sin to the daughter of Zion: for the transgressions of Israel were found in thee,” Micah 1:13), and it was natural for the idolatrous Amaziah to seek an asylum there. They brought his body back to Jerusalem on horses, as they would a beast. (Contrast Acts 7:16.) His name means “strength of Jah”; but we read, “he strengthened himself(2 Chron. 25:11); his character of self-sufficiency thus belying his name—a thing not uncommon in our day, especially among a people called Christians.

He was assassinated at the age of fifty-four. His mother’s name, “Jehovah-pleased,” would indicate that she was a woman of piety; and it may be that it was due to her influence that he acted righteously during the earlier portion of his reign. The record of his reign has the same sad monotony of so many of the kings of Judah at this period—”his acts first and last”—the first, full of promise; and the last, declension, or apostasy. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”