Melakhim Bet Chapter 14
Amatzya, son of Yehoash, reigns in the Kingdom of Yehuda. He follows the path of his father, worshiping Hashem but not eliminating the private altars that continue to operate throughout the land. He executes those who assassinated his father, however, in deference to the laws of the Torah, he refrains from punishing the children or families of the perpetrators. Amatzya wages successful wars against Edom and captures territory from them.
Emboldened by his military successes, Amatzya essentially declares war on the Kingdom of Israel (this is the interpretation of the vast majority of the commentators). King Yehoash of Israel warns Amatzya that he is foolishly overestimating the military prowess of Yehuda and is no match for the forces of Israel; however, Amatzya insists on pressing forward with his plan and is soundly defeated. The army of Israel penetrates as far as Jerusalem, breaching its walls, emptying the treasuries of the Temple and the king, and freeing prisoners who hailed from their kingdom.
Years later, there is a conspiracy against Amatzya in Yehuda; he flees to Lakhish but is pursued and assassinated. His son, Azarya (also known as Uziya) is appointed to rule in his place. He rebuilds the port city of Eilat which is restored to the Kingdom of Yehuda.
Yehoash, King of Israel, dies and is succeeded by his son, Yarovam. Although Yarovam (often called Yarovam II to differentiate him from the original Yarovam) continues in the corrupt religious path of his predecessors, Hashem has mercy on Israel and, despite his significant failings as a Jew and as a leader, enables him to accomplish substantial objectives on the battlefield. Yarovam II fights successfully with Aram and expands the territory of Israel to the original borders specified in the Torah, the first time this has happened in generations.
The story of Amatzya is particularly worthy of comment. In Sefer Divre HaYamim, many details are added to the narrative that fill in gaps in the development of the events but, in some ways, create even more difficulties for the reader, offering a complex and confusing portrait of the king. It is instructive to compare the accounts in Sefer Melakhim and Sefer Divre HaYamim; however, for our purposes, we wish to focus on the story as it presented in our text. Clearly, the prophetic author had good reason to provide only the information he determined was relevant to the message of the book, omitting anything extraneous to those themes.
It appears that Amatzya, inspired by his successes in battle against Edom, is spurred on by his achievements and wishes to seek a “Messianic” dream – the reunification of the kingdom under the Davidic monarchy. Trusting in his vision of a Greater Israel and probably with conviction in the idea that Hashem would support and bless his efforts, he confronts opposition forces much larger and more formidable than the armies at his command. Unfortunately, it seems that Amatzya overestimated his own closeness to Hashem and was therefore quite unrealistic in his hope that he would win the war.
Sefer Melakhim offers us an insight into the failings of Amatzya through its brief description of what he does and does not do. The text is very candid about the fact that, contrary to his self-assessment, Amatzya was NOT an ideal Davidic king; individual altars continue to thrive on his watch, which undermines his claim to being the “right man” to reunify the kingdom. Moreover, we notice a glaring omission from the picture – no consultation with a prophet who would inform the king in the name of God whether he was adopting the correct course of action and whether he would prevail.
In the version of events included in Sefer Melakhim, the story of Amatzya warns us of the danger of a king who overestimates the favor he has earned in the eyes of God. He may trust in Hashem’s help without actually seeking His word or His guidance and then pursue risky courses of action on that basis. A leader who is caught up in apocalyptic political or religious visions and sees himself as fulfilling a Messianic role may throw caution and rationality to the wind while chasing his dream, thereby setting himself and his people up for disaster.