Sunday, June 12, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 123. Jehoahaz King Of Judah

Prophets And Kings
Day 123
Jehoahaz King Of Judah

The people crown Jehoahaz, Josiah's youngest son, as king at the death of Josiah.

2 KINGS 23:31-35
"And the people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father." (2 Kings 23:30b) Jehoahaz was not Josiah's oldest son and we don't know whether this is the son Josiah would have chosen to succeed him. I think Josiah expected to live for many more years and may not yet have prepared any of his sons to become king. I tend to believe Jehoahaz never expected to be king but if he did, he didn't expect it to happen so soon.

"Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother's name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah." (2 Kings 23:31) The Jeremiah mentioned here is not the prophet Jeremiah because the Lord instructed him, "You must not marry and have sons and daughters in this place." (Jeremiah 16:2) Jeremiah was not to have a family because of the devastation coming upon Judah. Jeremiah was a contemporary of Josiah and his sons but he is not the father of Hamutal.

Josiah, for all his godliness and the wonderful examples he set, has raised a wicked son. The author tells us this about Jehoahaz, "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his predecessors had done." (2 Kings 23:32) I always want to know why the sons of godly kings go astray. Jehoahaz would have been born when Josiah was only sixteen but that was the year we are told, "In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David." (2 Chronicles 34:3a) So there was no point during Jehoahaz's life when his father was not following the Lord. I don't believe we can blame Josiah for not bringing his son up in the faith. Hamutal's name and her father's name indicate they were Hebrews, but since many people of Judah had fallen into idolatry before Josiah made reforms, we don't know whether or not she was a follower of the Lord when she married Josiah. I doubt Josiah would have allowed his wife to teach their son any pagan practices even if her heart still clung to idols instead of to the Lord. 

I think it's possible neither Josiah nor his wife Hamutal did anything wrong in their upbringing of Jehoahaz but that instead he was the type of character David wrote about, "Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge people with equity? No, in your heart you devise injustice, and your hands meet out violence on the earth. Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies." (Psalm 58:1-3) In the past psychologists attempted to blame every behavior on upbringing and they were especially hard on mothers. But now we know that, in some cases, there are those who seem to go astray from the beginning no matter what their home environment is like. There are some who appear to feel no compassion even from toddlerhood and become career criminals or in some cases murderers and serial killers. We don't know why such things happen but upbringing doesn't look like it has anything to do with it. I think this could be the case with Jehoahaz.

One other possibility occurs to me though. Could Jehoahaz have been bitter toward God for allowing his father to die? He knew his father was a godly man who sought the Lord with his whole heart. He grew up watching his father set an example for the whole nation. He talked the talk and walked the walk. Jehoahaz knew Josiah was the real deal, a genuine follower of the Lord, in both national matters and personal matters. And yet, in his prime, at the height of his power, Josiah was struck down while doing what seemed right to him: defending the sovereign borders of Judah. Because Jehoahaz lacks spiritual discernment he is unable to see that this was God's mercy on his father. Judgment is at the door of Judah and the Lord kept his promise to remove Josiah from the scene before the awful destruction comes. It could be that, young and unprepared to lead a nation, Jehoahaz turns his back on the God of his father because he believes God didn't protect Josiah. He may have thought to himself, "What good was all the worship my father gave to the Lord? All the prayers and the offerings and the sacrifices? He is still dead in the tomb, cut down in the prime of his life. He might as well have served the gods of the nations instead. Maybe if he had served those gods instead of tearing down their altars they would have protected him. So I will cling instead to the gods of the Assyrians and the Egyptians and ally myself with them. Maybe they will protect me from the threat of Babylon."

If Jehoahaz ever thought any of those things, he was gravely mistaken. The Lord warned the nation through Jeremiah, "You will be disappointed by Egypt as you were by Assyria." (Jeremiah 2:36b) Assyria has become too weak to give aid because she is under attack from Babylon. Egypt is no friend to Judah now that Josiah has opposed him and Josiah's youngest son has been unexpectedly brought to the throne. "Pharaoh Necho put him in chains at Riblah in the land of Hamath so that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and he imposed on Judah a levy of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold." (2 Kings 23:33) It's not as if the Lord didn't try to warn Jehoahaz. In the first half of Chapter 22 of the book of Jeremiah we find the Lord sending the prophet to the palace to urge Jehoahaz to turn back to the law of God, to sit on the throne of David and rule from it as David would. We learn from Chapter 22 that Jehoahaz was unjust and oppressive to the people, ruling greedily, concerned with making the palace finer and refusing to pay the laborers for their work. The Lord accuses Jehoahaz of not defending the poor and needy, of gaining wealth dishonestly, and shedding innocent blood. Jehoahaz manages to accomplish much evil in his three months as king, during which time the citizens are still mourning the death of the good king Josiah. The Lord tells them to stop weeping for him. Josiah is at peace with the Lord but trouble is on it's way to Judah. There will be much more to weep about in the coming days. "Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss; rather, weep bitterly for him who is exiled, because he will never return nor see his native land again." (Jeremiah 22:10) Jehoahaz will never return to Judah after being taken captive by Pharaoh. And a time is coming when King Nebuchadnezzar will take many citizens of Judah captive and they too will not return. The Lord is saying, "Weep for yourselves, people of Judah. There's no need to weep for Josiah, a man who fought the good fight and is resting in My presence forever. Weep for yourselves because if you don't return to Me, I will cast you from this land and you will never see it again."

"Pharaoh Necho made Eliakim son of Josiah king in place of his father Josiah and changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz and carried him off to Egypt, and there he died. Jehoiakim paid Pharaoh Necho the silver and gold he demanded. In order to do so, he taxed the land and exacted the silver and gold from the people of the land according to their assessments." (2 Kings 23:34-35) There doesn't seem to be any firm historical evidence regarding why Jehoahaz met Pharaoh at Riblah and was taken prisoner. Some think he may have attempted to oppose Pharaoh just as his father did. Others think Pharaoh summoned him there for a meeting on the pretense of making an alliance with him but instead intended to take him captive. After doing so, Pharaoh makes Jehoahaz's older brother Eliakim (now called Jehoiakim) king. Was Jehoiakim intended, as the older son, to have reigned after his father? Had he been Josiah's choice but the people took Jehoahaz and anointed him instead? There was a son older than Eliakim, named in 1 Chronicles 3:15 as Johanan, He may have died before his father did and therefore couldn't reign. There was another son between Jehoiakim and Jehoahaz named Zedekiah and we don't know why the people chose Jehoahaz over him. He will reign later for a time when Nebuchadnezzar sets him on the throne. But I would be willing to bet Jehoiakim considered himself the rightful king of Judah over Jehoahaz, being older than him. Pharaoh may have felt the same way. In putting Jehoiakim on the throne, Pharaoh now has a man who feels beholden to him. He has a puppet king who will pay all the tribute he asks. He has a king who is willing to subject himself to Egypt in order to sit on the throne. 

Necho changes Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim which means something quite similar. Eliakim means "God will develop" or "God will raise up". Jehoiakim means "Yaheweh will raise up" or "Yahweh will establish". Ancient kings often changed the names of those they conquered. It was a way to completely degrade and humiliate them. One commentary speculated that the Hebrew word "Yah" sounds similar to the Egyptian word "Aah" which stands for Egypt's moon-god and that Necho chose it for that purpose. There are even others who believe Necho insisted on a name change because he had conquered Eliakim but that he allowed Eliakim to choose his own name and so he chose one that meant the same as the original. Either way, it would seem that both Pharaoh and Eliakim are asserting that Eliakim should have been the successor to Josiah, that he is the one "raised up by Yahweh", that Yahweh has deposed his younger brother and put Eliakim in his place.

Sadly, Eliakim/Jehoiakim will be just as wicked as his younger brother, just as wicked as the kings of Judah before him who followed other gods. Because he does not turn to the Lord for help as the prophets are desperately urging him to do, during his reign King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will invade the land and take him captive.

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