Saturday, April 11, 2015

II Chronicles 28

II Chronicles 28 is about the reign of King Ahaz of Judah.  According to the Chronicler, King Ahaz did evil in the eyes of the LORD.  Here are some items:

1.  Scholars have noted that the account of King Ahaz’s reign in II Chronicles 28 is different from the accounts in II Kings 15-16 and Isaiah 7, and David Rothstein in The Jewish Study Bible also mentions Hosea 5:8-6:6 as an account of events that took place when Ahaz was king of Judah.

In II Kings 15-16, Northern Israel and Syria appear to be in alliance with each other, and they come against Judah.  Although Syria successfully recovers Elath for Syria and drives the Jews out from there, the Syro-Ephraimite alliance is not prevailing against Jerusalem.  King Ahaz of Judah asks Assyria for help against the Syro-Phoenician alliance, and Ahaz sends Temple and royal treasures to Assyria to get Assyria’s assistance.  Assyria agrees to help Judah and captures Syria.  When King Ahaz of Judah goes to Syria to meet with the king of Assyria, Ahaz notices a Syrian altar, and Ahaz orders a copy of that altar to be made for the Temple.

Isaiah 7 is similar to II Kings 15-16 in that a Syro-Ephraimite alliance is trying to attack Jerusalem.  In Isaiah 7, the prophet Isaiah encourages King Ahaz to trust that God will destroy the Syro-Ephraimite alliance.  The child Immanuel is a sign of this.

Hosea 5:8-6:6 is rather cryptic when it comes to the events during Ahaz’s reign, but it appears to forecast the fall and rise of Northern Israel, and the fall of Judah.  Northern Israel seems to seek help from Assyria and King Jabeb, and that does not help Northern Israel.

In II Chronicles 28, the king of Syria smites Judah and takes a number of Judahites captive.  God also delivers Judah into the hands of Northern Israel, which kills and captures many Judahites.  The prophet Oded comes and convinces the Northern Israelites and some of their chieftains to return the Judahite captives to Judah, and the Northern Israelites feed and anoint the captives, carry the weak captives on donkeys, and take them to Jericho, then return to Samaria.  The Edomites and Philistines are smiting Judah, and Ahaz asks the Assyrians for help.  Rather than helping, the Assyrians distress Judah.  Although God is punishing Judah through its distress, Ahaz does not repent, but Ahaz worships Syrian gods, thinking that these gods were behind Syria’s success against Judah.

How are the accounts different, and can they be harmonized?  Well, for one, Raymond Dillard says that the Chronicler does not depict the Syrians and Northern Israelites (Ephraimites) as in an alliance with each other, and Dillard proposes that this is because the Chronicler in II Chronicles 28 is depicting the Northern Israelites positively—-as heading in the direction of repentance—-and the Chronicler does not care for alliances, believing that they indicate a lack of trust in God, so he does not say that the Northern Israelites are allied with Syria.  I do not see this as a great discrepancy, though, for, in all the accounts, Syria and Northern Israel are trying to attack Judah.  The Chronicler appears to mention more successes against Judah on the part of Syria and Northern Israel, but II Kings 15-16 and Isaiah 7 do not say that Syria and Northern Israel were altogether unsuccessful against Judah: they just say that Syria and Northern Israel could not prevail against Jerusalem.

Another difference between II Chronicles 28 and II Kings 15-16 is that the Assyrians in II Chronicles 28 are not helpful to Judah, whereas they are helpful to Judah in II Kings 15-16.  That could be attributed to a matter of perspective, however.  Maybe the Assyrians did help Judah in the short term by coming in and defeating Syria, but, in the end, that was not helpful to Judah because it resulted in Judah’s subordination to Assyria, which exacted a lot of tribute.  Whether there is a real contradiction between the two accounts may depend on what the Chronicler means when he says that the Assyrians distressed the Judahites.

Where attempts to harmonize these accounts possibly fall short is when it comes to the Chronicler’s reference to Ahaz worshiping Syrian gods, thinking that these gods were efficacious because they contributed to the success of the Syrians against Judah.  This puzzles more than one commentator, since the Chronicler’s discussion of Ahaz worshiping Syrian gods comes after Ahaz asking the Assyrians for help.  Why, some commentators inquire, would Ahaz worship the Syrian gods, after the Assyrians had defeated Syria and thereby shown the ineptitude of the Syrian gods?  These commentators (i.e., Keil-Delitzsch, John Gill) suggest that Ahaz decided to worship the Syrian gods before the Assyrians defeated Syria; the Nelson Study Bible says, however, that Ahaz simply disregarded the fact that Assyria defeated Syria when Ahaz decided to worship the Syrian gods.  II Chronicles 28, in the former view, may not be narrating everything in chronological order, but rather is detailing examples of Ahaz’s distresses, then making the point that the distresses did not lead Ahaz to repentance.

But one should note that, in II Chronicles 28, Ahaz never asks Assyria for help against Syria, but rather against the Edomites and the Philistines.  The commentators who struggle over how Ahaz could worship the Syrian gods when the Assyrians defeated the Syrians do so because they are reading the accounts in light of each other, in juxtaposition.  Should they necessarily do that, though?

2.  Is II Chronicles 28 historically-accurate?  Most of the critical commentators I read presented II Chronicles 28 as a mixture of history and ideology.  David Rothstein and Raymond Dillard speculate that the Chronicler may be drawing on previous sources.  Rothstein says that II Chronicles 28 is accurate on the expansion of Edom, and Dillard says that the statement in v 15 that the Northern Israelites took the Judahite captives to Jericho may be from a previous source that the Chronicler was using.

At the same time, Dillard and Rothstein believe that II Chronicles 28 shows indications of the Chronicler’s ideology.  As I discussed above, the Northern Israelites and the Syrians do not appear to be in alliance in II Chronicles 28, and Dillard argues that this could be because the Chronicler is trying to depict the Northern Israelites positively and thus does not present them in an alliance.  (I am not sure if this is true, though, for II Chronicles 28 depicts the Northern Israelites positively after they repent in response to the prophet Oded, not necessarily before that.)  Dillard notes that the Chronicler is more explicit than the other accounts about the successes of Syria and Northern Israel against Judah, and Dillard believes this is consistent with the Chronicler’s belief in immediate retribution: Judah sins and gets immediately punished.

Rothstein and Dillard interpret the Northern Israelites’ repentance in II Chronicles 28 in light of other parts of Chronicles.  The Northern Israelites repent in response to a prophet in II Chronicles 28 and then treat the Judahites nicely, whereas the Northern Israelites do not repent in response to the prophet in II Chronicles 13 but proceed to fight the Judahites.  Rothstein and Dillard say that II Chronicles 28 may be a reversal of II Chronicles 13.  There is also the suggestion that the Northern Israelites’ repentance in II Chronicles 28 may foreshadow the acceptance of King Hezekiah’s religious reforms by Northern Israelites later in II Chronicles, and maybe even the fall of the Northern Israelite monarchy, since the chieftains in II Chronicles 28 are the ones exercising influence (Ralph Klein in the HarperCollins Study Bible makes the latter point).

3.  The story of the Northern Israelites returning the Judahite captives reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan.  II Chronicles 28:15 states: “And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them, and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brethren: then they returned to Samaria" (KJV).  Luke 10:34 says regarding the Good Samaritan: “And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (KJV).  In both stories, people seem to go above and beyond the call of duty, not just helping, but taking care of the one(s) needing help.

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