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Reign of Nadab - his murder by Baasha - war between Judah and Israel - Baasha's alliance with Syria - Asa gains over Ben- Hadad - prophetic message to Asa - resentment of the king - Asa's religious decline - death of Asa, death of Baasha, reign of Elah - his murder by Zimri - Omri dethrones Zimri - war between Omri and Tibni - rebuilding of Samaria. 1 KINGS 15:16-16:28; 2 CHRONICLES 16
WHILE these things were going on in Judah, the judgment, which the LORD had, through Ahijah, pronounced upon Jeroboam and his house, was rapidly preparing. After an apparently uneventful reign of only two years, Nadab, the son and successor of Jeroboam, was murdered while engaged in the siege of Gibbethon (the Gabatha and Gabothane of Josephus). This border-city, on the edge of the plain of Esdraelon (not many miles southwest of Nazareth, and originally in the possession of Dan, Joshua 19:44), must have been of great importance as a defense against incursions from the west - to judge from the circumstance that not only Nadab but his successors sought, although in vain, to wrest it from the Philistines (comp. 1 Kings 16:15). No other event in the reign of Nadab is recorded.
"He walked in the way of his father, and in his sin," and sudden destruction overtook him. Baasha - probably the leader of a military revolution - murdered him, and usurped his throne. The first measure of the new king was, in true Oriental fashion, to kill the whole family of his predecessor. Although the judgment of God upon Jeroboam and his house, as announced by the prophet, was thus fulfilled, it must not for a moment be thought that the foul deed of Baasha was thereby lessened in guilt. On the contrary, Holy Scripture expressly marks this crime as one of the grounds of Baasha's later judgments (1 Kings 16:7). It is perhaps not easy, and yet it is of supreme importance for the understanding of the Old Testament, to distinguish in these events the action of man from the overruling direction of God. Thus when, after his accession, the prophet Jehu, the son of Hanani,* was commissioned to denounce the sin, and to announce the judgment of Baasha, these two points were clearly put forward in his message. The sin of Baasha in the murder of Jeroboam's house, and the fact that his exaltation was due to the LORD (1 Kings 16:7; comp. ver. 2).**
** In fact the last clause in 1 Kings 16:7 seems added to explain the statement in ver. 2.
Baasha had sprung from a tribe wholly undistinguished by warlike achievements,* and from a family apparently ignoble and unknown (1 Kings 16:2). His only claim to the crown lay in his military prowess, which the neighboring kingdom of Judah was soon to experience.
Under his reign the state of chronic warfare between the two countries once more changed into one of active hostility. From the concordant accounts in the Books of Kings and Chronicles (1 Kings 15:16-22; 2 Chronicles 16:1-6), we gather what was Baasha's object in this war, and what his preparations for it had been. It seems, that Asa's father, Ahijah, had formed an alliance with the rising power of Syria under Tabrimon ("good is Rimmon"),* with the view of holding Israel in check by placing it between two enemies - Syria in the north and Judah in the south.
* The god Rimmon - or more probably Hadad-Rimmon, the Sun-god of the Syrians, 2 Kings 5:18. Hadad, "the sun," seems from ancient history to have been a royal title both in Syria and Edom. As stated in a previous note, there seem to have been four kings of Syria who bore that name: Hadad-ezer, in time of David; Hezion (Hadad II.) in that of Rehoboam; Tab-Rimmon (Hadad III.) in the time of Abijah; and Ben-Hadad (Hadad IV.) in the time of Asa. It is doubtful, Whether the Rezon in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 11:23-55) was identical with Hezion, or whether the former was a usurper.
This "league" was, as we infer, discontinued by Asa during the earlier part of his reign, when his confidence was more entirely placed in Jehovah his God. In these circumstances Baasha eagerly sought and entered upon an alliance with Syria. His primary object was to arrest the migration of Israelites into the kingdom of Judah, and the growing influence of Asa upon his own subjects, consequent, as we know, upon his great religious reformation (1 Kings 15:17). His secondary object was so to overawe Jerusalem, as virtually to paralyze the power of Judah. The invasion was at first successful, and Baasha penetrated as far as Ramah, about midway between Bethel and Jerusalem, thus obtaining command of the two roads which led from the north and the east to the Jewish capital. This, of course, implied not only the re-conquest of the towns which Abijah had taken from Israel (2 Chronicles 13:19; comp. also 15:8), but the complete isolation and domination of Jerusalem. Ramah was to be immediately converted into a strong fortress.
In these straits Asa seems to have forgotten the manner in which his former brilliant victory over Zerah had been obtained. Instead of relying wholly on Jehovah his God, he appears to have imagined that his former policy in regard to Syria had been a mistake. Like many who, on losing the first freshness of their faith, seek to combine trust in the LORD with what they regard as most likely means of worldly success, Asa entered into a new alliance* with Ben-Hadad, purchasing it with the silver and gold treasured up in the Temple and in the royal palace.
* The meaning of 1 Kings 15:19 is: Let there be a league.
He may have argued, that this did not imply a renunciation of his former allegiance to Jehovah; that he had no personal intercourse with Syria, which, indeed, was far separated from his dominions; that his was only a countermove to Baasha's schemes; and that a similar league had, during the reign of his father, proved eminently successful. But the result of an alliance so incongruous, and purchased in so dubious a manner, proved the beginning of spiritual declension and of little honor or real benefit to his country. Ben-Hadad was only too ready to entertain Asa's proposals. It could never have been his real policy to strengthen the neighbor-state of Israel, and to weaken that of Judah. On receiving the rich bribe, which made Judah virtually tributary to him, he broke his league with Baasha, and immediately invaded Israel, overrunning the northern territory, penetrating as far as the district of Chinneroth (Joshua 11:2; 12:3; 19:35), - which gave its name to the Lake of Gennesaret, - and occupying the land of Naphtali. This threatening danger in the north of his dominions obliged Baasha hastily to quit Ramah. Asa now summoned all Judah. The materials accumulated for the fortress of Ramah were removed, and used for building two new forts, Geba ("the height") and Mizpah ("the outlook") (comp. Joshua 18:24, 26; also Jeremiah 41:5-9). Both these cities lay within the territory of Benjamin, about three miles to the north of Ramah, in very strong positions, and commanded the two roads to Jerusalem.
But with the retreat of Baasha from Ramah, the troubles of Asa did not end; rather did they only then begin. When, alone and unaided, he had, in the might of Jehovah, encountered the hosts of Egypt, signal success had been his; peace and prosperity had followed; and God's prophet had been specially sent to meet the returning army with good and encouraging tidings. It was all otherwise now. Hanani the prophet was directed to meet Asa with a message of reproof and judgment; instead of, as formerly, peace, there would henceforth be continual warfare (2 Chronicles 16:9); and the alliance with Syria would prove neither to honor nor profit. On the other hand, even had his fears been realized, and the combined armies of Israel and Syria invaded Judah, yet if, instead of buying the alliance of Ben-Hadad, he had gone forward in the name of the LORD, victory such as that over the Ethiopians would again have been his (2 Chronicles 16:7). As it was, Asa had chosen a worldly policy, and by its issue he must abide. Henceforth it was no more Jehovah Who was arrayed against the might of man, but the contest would be simply one of cunning and strength, as between man and man (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Hanani had spoken, as all the prophets of Jehovah, fearlessly, faithfully, and only too truly. It was probably conviction of this which, in the unhumbled state of the king, kindled his anger against "the seer." Once more it might seem to Asa as not implying rebellion against God, only a necessary precaution against disunion and dissatisfaction among his own subjects, threatening to upset his political calculations and combinations, to use measures of severity against the prophet from which he would have shrunk at a former period of his reign. All the more requisite might these appear, since his unwelcome monitor evidently commanded the sympathies of an influential part of the community. But it was an unheard-of proceeding, which happily found imitation only in the worst times of Israel (1 Kings 22:,6- 29; Jeremiah 20:2; 29:26; Acts 16:24), to put the prophet of the Load "in the house of stocks"* on account of his faithfulness, and by a series of persecutions to oppress, and, if possible, crush** those who sympathized with him.
* Two terms are used in Hebrew for "the stocks." That here employed combined the pillory for the body with the stocks for the legs. It was, in fact, an instrument of torture, the neck and arms being confined, and the body in a bent position.
** The verb really means "to crush." It is generally used in connection with cruel oppression, as in Deuteronomy 28:33; 1 Samuel 12:3, etc.
Nor was this all. The fatal tendency which had showed itself in the Syrian alliance, and still more in the measures against Hanani and his sympathizers, continued and increased with the lapse of years. Two years before his death, Asa was attacked by some disease* in his feet. In this "also"** "he sought not Jehovah but in (by) the physicians."***
* According to the Talmud (Sotah 10 a) it was the gout.
** So 2 Chronicles 16:12 literally.
*** It deserves to be noticed that, when the true seeking of Jehovah is referred to, the original uses simply the accusative, as if to indicate the directness of the address; while in all spurious inquiries or requests the preposition in or by is employed, as if, while marking the means by which the object is sought, at the same time to indicate that any result still comes only from God. For, the Hebrew may be designated as the only theologically true language.
It is not necessary to explain the blame which Holy Scripture evidently attaches to this, on the ground that these physicians were so called "medicine-men" (as among the heathen), nor to suppose that they used idolatrous or even superstitious means. The example of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20; 2 Chronicles 32:24) sufficiently shows, how one who fully trusted in the LORD would have felt and acted in these circumstances. On the other hand, Asa displayed in this instance the same want of practical religion as in his alliance with Syria - a state of mind which Bengel rightly characterizes as theoretical orthodoxy combined with practical atheism. And as formerly the prophet had summed up what Asa had no doubt regarded as the height of political wisdom in the curt, if somewhat harsh, criticism: "Thou hast acted stupidly over this" (2 Chronicles 16:9) - so might it have been said of him in this matter also. He had not sought Jehovah, but had sought in the physicians - and by the help which he had sought he must abide. He had not trusted in the supernatural, but applied to the natural and in the natural course of events his disease ended in death. It was not wrong to employ means, indeed such were used in the miraculous cure of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:7), just as in the miraculous rescue of St. Paul's companions from shipwreck (Acts 27:23, 24, 43, 44). And, if one lesson more than another has been impressed on our minds in the course of this history, it is that of the use of natural means, in the ordinary and rational succession of events, for the accomplishment of supernatural and Divinely- announced purposes. But the error and sin of Asa consisted in seeking an object, however lawful and even desirable, in, by, and through secondary means, without first seeking Jehovah. Such conduct carried with it its natural result. For, what a man soweth, that - the very kind of grain - shall he also reap; just as, none the less, that we work for it (or perhaps have it supplied to our hands), but on the contrary, all the more because of it, we first pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and then receive as directly from His hand the consecrated fruit of our labor.
There was the same sad consistency about Asa's death as in his life. He seems to have built him a special mausoleum in the city of David; and there they laid him in almost Egyptian pomp on a bed of spices, and burnt at his burying, whether for the first time in royal funerals, or according to a more ancient practice,* a large quantity of costly spices and perfumes.
* The former seems to me the most probable. It need scarcely be said that the heathen practice of cremation was unknown. On this subject, and on the burning of spices at such funerals, comp. Geier, De Ebraeorum Luctu, pp. 104-119. According to Rabbinical writings, Asa was one of the model-kings.
But in following the narrative of Holy Scripture, we have been really anticipating the course of this history. For, as previously stated, Asa not only outlived Baasha, but altogether saw eight kings on the throne of Israel. Baasha seems to have survived his defeat little more than a year. He was succeeded by his son Elah, in the twenty-sixth year of King Asa's reign. The rule of Elah lasted only two years, or, more exactly, part of two years. Baasha had set the example of military revolutions, in which the favorite of the soldiery ascended the throne by the murder of his predecessor, and the extirpation of all who might have rival claims to the crown. The precedent was a dangerous one; and henceforth the throne of Israel was occupied by a series of military adventurers, whose line did not extend beyond their immediate successors. The son of Baasha was a cowardly debauchee, who, forgetful even of the decorum of Eastern princes, indulged in orgies in the houses of his favorites, while his army was fighting before Gibbethon. He fell a victim to a court conspiracy. We know only two of the actors in it: Arza, the steward of the king's palace (or rather, his major-domo), in whose house Elah was drinking himself drunk, and the king's murderer and successor Zimri, who filled the post of chief over half his "chariots," or perhaps his cavalry. The reign of Zimri lasted only seven days, but they were stained by even more than the bloodshed usual on such occasions. For Zimri destroyed not only the family of his predecessor, but killed all the "blood-avengers" (relatives, kinsfolk), and even "the friends" of the late king.
Whether, as Josephus explains (Ant. 8. 12, 4), Zimri had chosen for his rebellion the moment when all the leading officers were in camp, or Omri himself was originally in the conspiracy, certain it is that the army was not disposed to acknowledge the new usurper. It immediately proclaimed their general Omri, and under his leadership marched back upon Tirzah. Zimri held out until the city was taken, when he retired into "the citadel of the king's palace,"* which he set on fire, perishing in its flames. But Omri had not at first undisputed possession of the throne.
* This is the correct rendering of the original.
For four years the people were divided between him and another pretender to the crown, Tibni, the son of Genath. At length Omri prevailed, and "Tibni died" - either in battle or, as Josephus seems to imply, (Ant. 8. 12, 5), by command of his rival.
Omri occupied the throne altogether twelve (or part of twelve) years. The first four of these passed in contests with Tibni. During the next two years he resided in Tirzah. After that he bought from Shemer for two talents of silver (about £780) the hill of Samaria. On this commanding position he built the new capital of Israel, which, according to the sacred text, he named Shomeron,* after the former owner of the site.
* It is remarkable that in the older Assyrian monuments the city is still denominated as that of Omri, its later name appearing only in the time of Tiglath-pileser, nearly two hundred years after its building by Omri. This is a noteworthy confirmation of the Scriptural narrative. According to tradition, John the Baptist was buried in Samaria.
But on other grounds it deserved to be called "watch-mountain," as the name may be rendered. Situated about the center of the land, six miles northwest of Shechem, it occupied a commanding hill, rising from a broad valley, and surrounded on all sides by mountains, through which there was only a narrow entrance from the west. The approach to the plateau on which Samaria stood is steep on all sides. Thus the site of the new capital, which was also distinguished by great beauty, was singularly adapted both for observation and defense. The country around was very rich, and the place well supplied with water. A more suitable spot could not have been chosen by monarch or general. This accounts for the continued importance of Samaria through all the varying fortunes of the country and its people.
The modern miserable village of Sebustiyeh (the ancient Sebaste), inhabited by less than one thousand people, which occupies the site of the once splendid city, where Omri, Ahab, and their successors held high court, contains but few remains of its ancient grandeur. But these are sufficiently remarkable.*
* See the very full description by M. Guerin (La Samarie, vol. 2. pages 188-210).
The ancient Acropolis, or temple, palace, and citadel, seems to have stood on the western brow of the hill, and its site is still marked by the ruins of a most magnificent colonnade composed of graceful monoliths. The approach to the castle must have been by ascending terraces, which, no doubt, were covered with houses and palaces. Of these not a trace is left. Only on the topmost height - from which, westwards, the Mediterranean, and eastwards, across swelling mountains, a landscape of unrivaled beauty and fertility were full in view - a few broken and upturned pillars mark the site of the royal castle. The dynasties that reigned there have long been swept away; the people over whom they ruled carried into a captivity over which the veil of impenetrable mystery lies. Only the word of the LORD has stood firm and immovable. Of Nadab, of Baasha, of Elah, of Zimri, and of Omri, Scripture has only one and the same thing to say, that they walked in the way and in the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, "wherewith he made Israel to sin, to provoke Jehovah, the God of Israel, to anger." And over each and all did the same judgment sweep. And yet there were more grievous sins to follow, and more terrible judgments to come."*