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  • ADAM CLARKE'S BIBLE COMMENTARY -
    2 KINGS 8

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    CHAPTER VIII

    Account of the sojourning of the Shunammite in the land of the Philistines, during the seven years famine, 1, 2. She returns, and solicits the king to let her have back her land; which, with its fruits, he orders to be restored to her, 3-6. Elisha comes to Damascus, and finds Ben-hadad sick; who sends his servant Hazael to the prophet to inquire whether he shall recover, 7-9. Elisha predicts his death, tells Hazael that he shall be king, and shows him the atrocities he will commit, 10-14. Hazael returns, stifles his master with a wet cloth, and reigns in his stead, 15. Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, becomes king over Judah; his bad reign, 16-19. Edom and Libnah revolt, 20-22. Jehoram dies, and his son Ahaziah reigns in his stead, 23, 24. His bad reign, 23-24. He joins with Joram, son of Ahab, against Hazael; Joram is wounded by the Syrians, and goes to Jezreel to be healed, 28, 29.

    NOTES ON CHAP. VIII

    Verse 1. "Then spake Elisha" - As this is the relation of an event far past, the words should be translated, "But Elisha had spoken unto the woman whose son he had restored unto life; and the woman had arisen, and acted according to the saying of the man of God, and had gone with her family, and had sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years." What is mentioned in these two verses happened several years before the time specified in the third verse. See the observations at the end of the preceding chapter.

    Verse 4. "The king talked with Gehazi" - This is supposed to have happened before the cleansing of Naaman, for is it likely that the king would hold conversation with a leprous man; or that, knowing Gehazi had been dismissed with the highest disgrace from the prophet's service, he could hold any conversation with him concerning his late master, relative to whom he could not expect him to give either a true or impartial account? Some think that this conversation might have taken place after Gehazi became leprous; the king having an insatiable curiosity to know the private history of a man who had done such astonishing things: and from whom could he get this information, except from the prophet's own confidential servant? It agrees better with the chronology to consider what is here related as having taken place after the cure of Naaman. As to the circumstance of Gehazi's disease, he might overlook that, and converse with him, keeping at a reasonable distance, as nothing but actual contact could defile.

    Verse 5. "This is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life." - This was a very providential occurrence in behalf of the Shunammite.

    The relation given by Gehazi was now corroborated by the woman herself; the king was duly affected, and gave immediate orders for the restoration of her land.

    Verse 7. "Elisha came to Damascus" - That he might lead Gehazi to repentance; according to Jarchi and some others.

    Verse 8. "Take a present in thine hand" - But what an immense present was this-forty camels' burden of every good thing of Damascus! The prophet would need to have a very large establishment at Damascus to dispose of so much property.

    Verse 10. "Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die." - That is, God has not determined thy death, nor will it be a necessary consequence of the disease by which thou art now afflicted; but this wicked man will abuse the power and trust thou hast reposed in him, and take away thy life. Even when God has not designed nor appointed the death of a person, he may nevertheless die, though not without the permission of God. This is a farther proof of the doctrine of contingent events: he might live for all his sickness, but thou wilt put an end to his life.

    Verse 11. "He settled his countenance steadfastly" - Of whom does the author speak? Of Hazael, or of Elisha? Several apply this action to the prophet: he had a murderer before him and he saw the bloody acts he was about to commit, and was greatly distressed; but he endeavoured to conceal his feelings: at last his face reddened with anguish, his feelings overcame him, and he burst out and wept.

    The Septuagint, as it stands in the Complutensian and Antwerp Polyglots, makes the text very plain: kai esth azahl kata prwsopon autou, kai pareqhken enwpion autou dwra, ewv hscuneto? kai eklausen o anqrwpov tou qeou, And Hazael stood before his face, and he presented before him gifts till he was ashamed; and the man of God wept.

    The Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex Alexandrinus, are nearly as the Hebrew. The Aldine edition agrees in some respects with the Complutensian; but all the versions follow the Hebrew.

    Verse 12. "I know the evil that thou wilt do" - We may see something of the accomplishment of this prediction, chap. x. 32, 33; xiii. 3, 7.

    Verse 13. "But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great things" - I believe this verse to be wrongly interpreted by the general run of commentators. It is generally understood that Hazael was struck with horror at the prediction; that these cruelties were most alien from his mind; that he then felt distressed and offended at the imputation of such evils to him; and yet, so little did he know his own heart, that when he got power, and had opportunity, he did the whole with a willing heart and a ready hand. On the contrary, I think he was delighted at the prospect; and his question rather implies a doubt whether a person so inconsiderable as he is shall ever have it in his power to do such great, not such evil things; for, in his sight, they had no turpitude. The Hebrew text stands thus: h[y yk blkh db[ hm yk hzh lwdgh rbdh ki mah abdecha hakkeleb, ki yaaseh haddabar haggadol hazzeh? "But, what! thy servant, this dog! that he should do this great work!" Or, "Can such a poor, worthless fellow, such a dead dog, [o kuwn o teqnhkwv, Sept.,] perform such mighty actions? thou fillest me with surprise." And that this is the true sense, his immediate murder of his master on his return fully proves. "Our common version of these words of Hazael," as Mr. Patten observes, "has stood in the front of many a fine declamation utterly wide of his real sentiment. His exclamation was not the result of horror; his expression has no tincture of it; but of the unexpected glimpse of a crown! The prophet's answer is plainly calculated to satisfy the astonishment he had excited. A dog bears not, in Scripture, the character of a cruel, but of a despicable animal; nor does he who is shocked with its barbarity call it a GREAT deed." -David Vindicated.

    Verse 15. "A thick cloth" - The versions, in general, understand this of a hairy or woollen cloth.

    "So that he died" - He was smothered, or suffocated.

    Verse 16. "In the fifth year of Joram" - This verse, as it stands in the present Hebrew text, may be thus read: "And in the fifth year of Joram son of Ahab king of Israel, [and of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah,] reigned Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah." The three Hebrew words, hdwhy lm fpwhyw , and of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, greatly disturb the chronology in this place. It is certain that Jehoshaphat reigned twenty-five years, and that Jehoram his son reigned but eight; 1 Kings xxii. 42; ver. 17; 2 Chron. xx. 31; xxi. 5. So that he could not have reigned during his father's life without being king twenty years, and eight years! These words are wanting in three of Kennicott's and Deuteronomy Rossi's MSS. in the Complutensian and Aldine editions of the Septuagint, in the Peshito Syriac, in the Parisian Heptapler Syriac, the Arabic, and in many copies of the Vulgate, collated by Dr. Kennicott and Deuteronomy Rossi, both printed and manuscript; to which may be added two MSS. in my own library, one of the fourteenth, the other of the eleventh century, and in what I judge to be the Editio Princeps of the Vulgate. And it is worthy of remark that in this latter work, after the fifteenth verse, ending with Quo mortuo regnavit Azahel pro eo, the following words are in a smaller character, Anno quinto Joram filii Achab regis Israhel, regnavit Joram filius Josaphat rex Juda. Triginta, &c. We have already seen that it is supposed that Jehoshaphat associated his son with him in the kingdom; and that the fifth year in this place only regards Joram king of Israel, and not Jehoshaphat king of Judah. See the notes on chap. i. 17.

    Verse 17. "He reigned eight years in Jerusalem." - Beginning with the fifth year of Joram, king of Israel. He reigned three years with Jehoshaphat his father, and five years alone; i.e., from A.M. 3112 to 3119, according to Archbishop Usher.

    Verse 18. "The daughter of Ahab was his wife" - This was the infamous Athaliah; and through this marriage Jehoshaphat and Ahab were confederates; and this friendship was continued after Ahab's death.

    Verse 19. "To give him alway a light" - To give him a successor in his own family.

    Verse 21. "Joram went over to Zair" - This is the same as Seir, a chief city of Idumea. So Isa. xxi. 11: The burden of Dumah (Idumea.) He calleth to me out of Seir.

    "Smote the Edomites" - It appears that the Israelites were surrounded by the Idumeans; and that in the night Joram and his men cut their way through them, and so got every man to his tent, for they were not able to make any farther head against these enemies; and therefore it is said, that Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day.

    Verse 23. "Are they not written in the book of the chronicles" - Several remarkable particulars relative to Joram may be found in 2 Chron. 21.

    Verse 26. "Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign" - In 2 Chron. xxii. 2, it is said, forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; this is a heavy difficulty, to remove which several expedients have been used. It is most evident that, if we follow the reading in Chronicles, it makes the son two years older than his own father! for his father began to reign when he was thirty-two years old, and reigned eight years, and so died, being forty years old; see ver. 17. Dr. Lightfoot says, "The original meaneth thus: Ahaziah was the son of two and forty years; namely, of the house of Omri, of whose seed he was by the mother's side; and he walked in the ways of that house, and came to ruin at the same time with it. This the text directs us to look after, when it calleth his mother the daughter of Omri, who was indeed the daughter of Ahab. Now, these forty- two years are easily reckoned by any that will count back in the Chronicle to the second of Omri. Such another reckoning there is about Jechoniah, or Jehoiachin, chap. xxiv. 8: Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign. But, 2 Chron. xxxvi. 9, Jehoiachin was the son of the eight years; that is, the beginning of his reign fell in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar, and of Judah's first captivity." - Works, vol. i., p. 87.

    After all, here is a most manifest contradiction, that cannot be removed but by having recourse to violent modes of solution. I am satisfied the reading in 2 Chron. xxii. 2, is a mistake; and that we should read there, as here, twenty-two instead of forty-two years; see the note there. And may we not say with Calmet, Which is most dangerous, to acknowledge that transcribers have made some mistakes in copying the sacred books, or to acknowledge that there are contradictions in them, and then to have recourse to solutions that can yield no satisfaction to any unprejudiced mind? I add, that no mode of solution yet found out has succeeded in removing the difficulty; and of all the MSS. which have been collated, and they amount to several hundred, not one confirms the reading of twenty-two years. And to it all the ancient versions are equally unfriendly.

    Verse 28. "The Syrians wounded Joram" - Ahaziah went with Joram to endeavour to wrest Ramoth-gilead out of the hands of the Syrians, which belonged to Israel and Judah. Ahab had endeavoured to do this before, and was slain there; see 1 Kings xxii. 3, &c., and the notes there.

    Verse 29. "Went back to be healed in Jezreel" - And there he continued till Jehu conspired against and slew him there. And thus the blood of the innocents, which had been shed by Ahab and his wife Jezebel, was visited on them in the total extinction of their family. See the following chapters, where the bloody tale of Jehu's conspiracy is told at large.

    I HAVE already had to remark on the chronological difficulties which occur in the historical books; difficulties for which copyists alone are responsible. To remove them by the plan of reconciliation, is in many cases impracticable; to conjectural criticism we must have recourse. And is there a single ancient author of any kind, but particularly those who have written on matters of history and chronology, whose works have been transmitted to us free of similar errors, owing to the negligence of transcribers?

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