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Lecture 84: The Worship of God During the Days of Achav and from the Days of Rechavam to the Days of Amatzya

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy




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Lecture 84: The Worship of God during the days of Achav and from the days of Rechavam to the days of Amatzya

Rav Yitzchak Levi





            Now that we have discussed the days of David and Shlomo and the split of the kingdom in the days of Yarovam at length, it is appropriate to consider the spiritual reality over the course of the First Temple period, from Yarovam to Hoshea the son of Ela in the kingdom of Israel and from Rechavam to Tzidkiyahu in the kingdom of Yehuda.


            Owing to space limitations, we cannot present the picture in all its details. In this lecture, we will try to describe the most important spiritual phenomena during the almost four hundred year period under discussion.




            One of the repeating expressions in connection with all the kings of Israel is that they sinned and caused Israel to sin with "the sins of Yarovam the son of Nevat." As we saw in the previous lecture, however, it would appear that there was no actual idol worship during the period of Yarovam. Idolatry was a novelty introduced in the days of Achav, when, in addition to the calves, the bamot, and the houses of bamot throughout the kingdom, real idol worship directed at the Ba'al was established.


            Indeed, when the prophet describes the kingdom of Achav, he mentions several times that he did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all that were before him:


… He took as a wife Izevel, the daughter of Etba'al, king of the Tzidonians, and he went and served the Ba'al and prostrated himself to him. And he reared up an altar for the Ba'al in the house of the Ba'al, which he had built in Shomron. And Achav made an ashera; and Achav did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him. (Melakhim I 16:29-34)


For the first time in the capital city of Shomron, a temple to the Ba'al was erected.[1] The verses suggest that Achav's marriage to Izevel, daughter of Etba'al king of the Tzidonians, was the cause of the increase in Tzidonian idol worship.


            Similarly, it seems that later, it was Izevel who initiated the killing of the prophets of God and it was she who tried to spread the worship of the Ba'al throughout Israel. In this sense, Achav himself was more passive than his wife – he did not prevent the assembly at Mount Carmel or the killing of the prophets of the Ba'al, but he also did not take any active steps. This point seems to be evident in the words of the prophet:


But there was none like Achav, who did give himself over to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Izevel his wife did incite. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Emori, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.[2] (Melakhim I 21:25)


            Parallel to the increase in idol worship in the kingdom of Israel, we find persecution of the prophets of God (Ovadyahu conceals a hundred prophets in a cave). The altars of God are destroyed by the people of Israel, and even the altar of God on Mount Carmel is destroyed.


            In the wake of all this, there is the assembly on Mount Carmel, where four hundred and fifty prophets of the Ba'al and four hundred prophets of the ashera who eat at Izevel's tables are brought together. Following the great revelation, in the course of which a fire from God consumes the wood, the stones, the earth, and the water, all the people fall on their faces and say, "The Lord is God." The prophets of the Ba'al are seized, brought down to the Kishon, and slaughtered there.


            Was the entire nation involved in the worship of idols? Scripture says as follows:


Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to the Ba'al and every mouth that has not kissed him. (Melakhim I 19:18)


Based on this it may be presumed that the majority of the people participated at one level or another in idol worship, whether through actual service or through support, identification, respect, esteem, or the like.


            This assumption is supported by the words of Eliyahu:


And Eliyahu drew near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Ba'al, then follow him.” And the people answered him not a word. (Melakhim I 18:21)


The very formulation of Eliyahu's question in this manner assumes that a considerable portion of the nation served the Ba'al.


            What were Achav's motives in serving the Ba'al?


            As was mentioned above, it is possible to hang Achav's actions on his marriage to Izevel, the daughter of the king of Tzor. According to this approach, not only does Achav allow her to worship her gods, but he even participates to a certain degree in their worship. It is clear that the connection to Tzor strengthened the kingdom of Israel economically, as Tzor controlled trade, and Scripture testifies to Achav's economic and military strength. The archeological excavations at Meggido and at Chatzor testify to extensive construction projects in the days of Achav; the Shalmaneser inscription also teaches us about the impressive military strength displayed by Achav's army in the battle of Karkar. Without a doubt, Achav and Yehoshafat's commercial connections and the building of ships that sail to Ofira testify to great economic prosperity.


            Following the death of Achav, his son Achazya continues in the path of his father and cleaves to the Ba'al:


For he served the Ba'al, and worshipped him, and provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel, according to all that his father had done. (Melakhim I 22:54)


Achazya's death takes place soon after his ascendancy to the throne, and it is explained by the prophet as follows:


And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Since you have sent messengers to inquire of Ba'al-Zevuv, the god of Ekron - is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word? Therefore, you shall not come down from that bed of which you have gone up, but shall surely die.” So he died according to the word of the Lord which Eliyahu had spoken. (Melakhim II 1:16-17)


            In contrast, in the kingdom of Yehuda, Yeshoshafat rules as king in a manner that is the very opposite of that of Achav:


And the Lord was with Yehoshafat because he walked in the first ways of his father David and did not seek the Be'alim; but he sought the God of his father and followed His commandments, and not like the doings of Israel. Therefore, the Lord established the kingdom in his hand and all Yehuda brought tribute to Yehoshafat; and he had riches and honor in abundance. And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord; moreover he took away the high places and the asherim out of Yehuda. (Divrei Ha-Yamim II 17:3-6)


In Divrei Ha-Yamim, Yehoshafat's work in everything connected to the spread of Torah in Yehuda and to the establishment of a judicial system as a means of strengthening Torah observance among the people is described at length. Yehoshafat's demand of Achav that the prophets of God voice their opinion before the battle at Ramot Gil'ad (Melakhim II 22:5) also expresses his position (putting aside for a moment the question of his very joining with Achav in battle[3]).


            The influence of the house of Achav is, however, very evident in the three kings who ruled after Yehoshafat.


            Regarding Yehoram, we read:


And in the fifth year of Yoram the son of Achav king of Israel, Yehoshafat being then king of Yehuda, Yehoram the son of Yehoshafat king of Yehuda began to reign. Thirty-two years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned for eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Achav, for the daughter of Achav was his wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord. (Melakhim II 8:15-18)


Divrei Ha-yamim adds:


Moreover, he made high places in the mountains of Yehuda, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go astray, and drew Yehuda away. And there came a writing to him from Eliyahu the prophet, saying, “Thus says the Lord God of David your father: Because you have not followed the ways of Yehoshafat your father, nor the ways of Asa king of Yehuda, but have followed the ways of the kings of Israel and have made Yehuda and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to become unfaithful, like the unfaithfulness of the house of Achav, and you have also slain your brothers of your father's house, who were better than yourself - behold, with a great plague will the Lord smite your people, and your children, and your wives, and all your goods. And you shall have great sickness by disease of your bowels, until your bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day. (Divrei Ha-yamim II 21:11-15)


            Yehoram's son, Achazyahu, also follows in the paths of the kings who preceded him:


And the inhabitants of Jerusalem made Achazyahu, his youngest son, king in his stead; for the band of men that came with the Arvim to the camp had slain all the eldest. So Achazyahu the son of Yehoram king of Yehuda reigned. Forty-two years was Achazyahu when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Atalyahu the daughter of Omri. He also walked in the ways of the house of Achav, for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly. So he did evil in the sight of the Lord like the house of Acha'av; for they were his counselors after the death of his father to his destruction. (Divrei Ha-yamim II 22:1-4)


Atalya, Achazyahu's mother, rules after him, and she destroys the entire royal family with the exception of Yoash, the son of Achazyahu, who was hidden from Atalya and thus not executed:


But Yehoshav'at, the daughter of the king, took Yoash the son of Achazyahu and stole him from among the king's sons who were slain, and put him and his nurse in a bedchamber. So Yehoshav'at, the daughter of king Yehoram, the wife of Yehoyada the priest (for she was the sister of Achazyahu), hid him from Atalyahu so that she could not slay him. And he was with them hidden in the house of God for six years; and Atalya reigned over the land. (Ibid. 11-12)


            Atalya was killed on the order of Yehoyada the priest:


… And they laid hands on her; and she went by the way of the Horse Gate into the king's house, and there was she slain. And Yehoyada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord's people; between the king also and the people. And all the people of the land went into the house of the Ba'al and pulled it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces thoroughly, and slew Mattan the priest of the Ba'al before the altars. And the priest appointed officers over the house of the Lord. (Melakhim II 11:16-18)


In these verses, mention is made for the first time of the house of Ba'al and a priest of Ba'al and altars and idols for idol worship in Jerusalem itself.[4]


            Following the death of Yehoyada, however, the situation utterly changes:


Now after the death of Yehoyada, the princes of Yehuda came and prostrated themselves before the king. Then the king hearkened to them. And they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers and worshipped asherim and idols. And anger came upon Yehuda and Jerusalem for their crime. But He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they forewarned them, but they would not give ear. (Divrei Ha-yamim II 24:17-19)


            In addition to the criticism voiced by the prophet, Chazal understood that the princes' prostration before Yoash was not merely prostration before a king, but rather prostration as a religious ritual:


From where do we know that Yoash made himself into a god? For it is written, "Now after the death of Yehoyada, the princes of Yehuda came and prostrated themselves before the king. Then the king hearkened to them." What is meant by, "And they prostrated themselves before the king"? They made him a god. They said to him: Were it not that you are a god, you would not have come out after seven years in the Holy of Holies. He said to them: Thus it is, and he accepted upon himself to become a god. (Tanchuma, Va'era 9)


This midrash is based on another midrash, according to which the "bedchamber" in which Yoash was hidden for six years was in the Holy of Holies.[5] Yoash's extended stay in the sanctified quarters brought his officers to attribute to him Divine qualities, and in his arrogance, Yoash accepted what they said and allowed them to worship him.


            Zekharya, the son of Yehoyada the priest, arose to admonish the people about their sudden spiritual deterioration:


And the spirit of God came upon Zekharya the son of Yehoyada the priest, and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, though you cannot succeed? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you. (Divrei Ha-yamim II 24:20)


Yoash then repays Yehoyada's kindness with evil and gives the order that his son be killed:


And they conspired against him and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus, Yoash the king did not remember the faithful love which Yehoyada his father had shown him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, “May the Lord see and revenge.” (ibid. 21-22)


            According to the midrash, Zekharya was put to death because he had tried to keep idol worship out of the Temple:


Yoash was about to bring an idol into the sanctuary. Zekharya stood at the entrance to the sanctuary and said to him, “You will not bring it in unless you kill me.” He stood up and killed him. (Midrash Shir Ha-shirim 3:2 [ed. Gruenhut])[6]


            Neither Chazal nor the Rishonim relate directly to the connection between the killing of Zekharya the son of Yehoyada the priest and the destruction of the Temple. This, however, is undoubtedly another example of the shocking blurring of the boundaries between the authority of the king and the functions of the priest and the prophet. Out of intense arrogance and posing as a god (and obviously out of extreme ingratitude), Yoash scoffs at Zekharya's objection and reproach and orders that Zekharya the priest and prophet be killed in the courtyard of the house of God, as if prophecy and the priesthood belonged to him and it falls upon him to determine what the priest or prophet says and doesn't say.


            While there is no direct reference to a connection between the killing of Zekharya and the destruction of the Temple, there is an allusion to this idea in a difficult midrash about the boiling of Zekharya's blood two hundred and fifty two years before the destruction.


You find that when Nevuzaradan went up to destroy Jerusalem, the Holy One, blessed be He, hinted to that blood [Zekharya's blood] that it should seethe and bubble two hundred and fifty two years from Yoash to Tzidkiya. What did they do? They swept earth over it, and made a pile, but it did not rest. And the blood continued to seethe and bubble. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the blood: The time has come to collect your debt.

When Nevuzaradan went up and saw it, he said to them: What is this blood that it should bubble so? They said to him: It is the blood of bullocks, rams, and sheep that they would slaughter and offer as sacrifices. He brought bullocks, sheep, and rams, and slaughtered [them], but [the blood] did not quiet down, rest, or stand. He immediately ordered them to be brought and hanged on the gallows. He said to them: What is the nature of this blood? If you do not tell me, I will comb your flesh with iron combs. They said to him: Since the Holy One, blessed be He, demands his blood from us, we will tell you. They said to him: A priest and a prophet and a judge would prophesy concerning us about all these things that you are doing to us, but we did not believe him, and we stood up against him and killed him for having reprimanded us.

Immediately, he brought eighty thousand young priests, and slaughtered them, but it did not rest. And the blood would issue forth until it reached the grave of Zekharya. He then brought a great Sanhedrin, as well as a minor Sanhedrin, and slaughtered them, but it did not rest. At that very hour, that wicked man came and cried out about the blood and said to him: What good are you, and how is your blood better than all these bloods? Do you want me to destroy your entire nation on its account? At that very moment, the Holy One, blessed be He, became filled with mercy and said: Now, if this wicked man the son of a wicked and cruel man, who has come to destroy My house, has became filled with mercy, I… all the more so. At that moment, the Holy One, blessed be He, hinted to the blood and it was swallowed up in its place. (Kohelet Rabba 3:16; see also parallel in Gittin 56b)


            Another midrash that draws a connection between the killing of Zekharya and the destruction of the Temple relates to a verse in Eikha:


Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom You have done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babes? Shall priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? (Eikha 2:20)


The midrash relates:


It once happened that Doeg the son of Yosef died and left a young child to his mother, and every year she would measure him with handbreadths and donate his weight in gold to Heaven. When Jerusalem was surrounded, she slaughtered him with her own hands and ate him. And Yirmiya lamented before God and said: "[Consider] to whom You have done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babes." And the holy spirit answered him: "Shall priest and prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?" – this is Zekharya the son of Yehoyada. (Eikha Rabba 1:51)


            These sources all demonstrate the severity with which this act of killing a priest and prophet in the courtyard of the house of God was viewed - an act of total blurring of the boundaries between king, priest and prophet, to the point of killing Zekharya the son of Yehoyada the priest. All this was done with the greatest ingratitude toward the efforts of Yehoyada his father.


            We have seen, then, the clear and direct destructive influence of Achav and the house of Achav through marriage ties with the kingdom of Yehuda over the course of the reigns of Yehoram, Achazya, Atalya, and Yoash, kings of Yehuda.


            It would seem that a direct termination of the influence of Achav and the house of Achav takes place during the days of Yehu the son of Nimshi, who was anointed king over the kingdom of Israel. At the time of his anointing, he is commanded:


And he arose, and went into the house; and he poured the oil on his head, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: I have anointed you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. And you shall smite the house of Achav your master, that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Izevel. For the whole house of Achav shall perish; and I will cut off from Achav every male person, and he that is shut up and he that is left free in Israel. (Melakhim II 9:6-8)


            Yehu systematically destroys the entire house of Achav:


So Yehu slew all that remained of the house of Achav in Yizre'el, and all his great men, and his familiar friends, and his priests, until he left none remaining… And they went to the city of the house of the Ba'al. And they brought out the pillars of the house of the Ba'al and burned them. And they pulled down the pillar of the Ba'al and pulled down the house of the Ba'al and made it a latrine unto this day. Thus, Yehu destroyed the Ba'al out of Israel. Nevertheless, from the sins of Yarovam the son of Nevat, who made Israel to sin, Yehu departed not from after them, namely, the golden calves that were in Bet-El and that were in Dan.[7] (ibid. 10:11, 25-29)


            However, following the days of Yehu, it is stated about Yehoachaz his son:


Nevertheless, they did not depart from the sins of the house of Yarovam, who made Israel to sin, but continued in that; and the ashera remained also in Shomron. (ibid. 13:6)


In the kingdom of Shomron there is no longer any mention of worship of the Ba'al, but the ashera still exists. It can be said with certainty that Yehu the son of Nimshi wiped out the worship of the Ba'al from the kingdom of Israel.


            We saw in this study how the worship of the Ba'al penetrated the kingdom of Israel through the marriage of the king of Israel to the daughter of the king of Tzor, and how for a certain period of time this worship even penetrated the kingdom of Yehuda through the marital connections between the kings of Yehuda and the kings of Israel, Tzor and Tzidon.


            This is a phenomenon with far-reaching spiritual significance. For a period of several decades, first the kingdom of Israel and then the kingdom of Yehuda worship a god other than the God of Israel. This is how Scripture summarizes the actions of the kingdom of Israel at the time of its destruction:


For so it was, when the Children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the statutes of the nations, whom the Lord cast out from before the Children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they practiced… and they built them high places in all their cities… And they set them up pillars and asherim on every high hill, and under every green tree; and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the Lord carried away before them, and did wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger; for they served idols, concerning which the Lord had said to them: You shall not do this thing… And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, two calves, and made an ashera, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served the Ba'al. And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination, and enchantments, and gave themselves up to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. (ibid. 17:7-11)


Scripture lists the varied sins of the kingdom that ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple and the exile. This is a synopsis of the sins of the kingdom of Israel from Yarovam to Hoshea the son of Ela, and it constitutes a prophetic evaluation of the kingdom of Israel throughout all the years of its existence. The points that are mentioned include the following:


  • Calves, bamot in all the cities, pillars and asherim everywhere.


  • The worship of idols, the worship of the Ba'al, bowing down to all the host of heaven.


  • Causing sons to pass through the fire,[8] divination and enchantments.


On the one hand, emphasis is placed on worship in every city, on every high hill, and under every green tree. From here we see that these phenomena are widespread and popular, and that they encompass the people all across the kingdom. On the other hand, mention is made of all kinds of worship, from bamot apparently for the worship of the God of Israel to worship of the Ba'al and bowing down to all the host of heaven.


Scripture emphasizes an astonishing expression, "they had feared other gods." In other words, they did not fear the God of Israel, but other gods. Following the statutes of the nations, imitating the peoples who surround them, abandoning the commandments, and provoking God are what characterize all these forms of worship.


It was already noted above regarding Achav that the establishment of marital connections with the king of Tzor had political advantages, but the spiritual ramifications were far-reaching. This phenomenon repeats itself throughout this period.


We chose to open with the idol worship in the days of Achav owing to its severity on the one hand and its centrality on the other, beginning in the kingdom of Israel in the days of the house of Achav, until its destruction at the hand of Yehu the son of Nimshi, and in its penetration into the kingdom of Yehuda in the days of the kings who ruled after Yehoshafat, Yehoram and Achazyahu. This is all in addition to the sins of Yerov'am the son of Nevat, which we spelled out in detail in previous lectures.


It is important to emphasize that it is reasonable to assume that in such a situation, various mixtures are possible: bamot for the service of the God of Israel and also bowing down to the host of heaven; asherim, causing sons to pass through fire, and the worship of the Ba'al, as well as prayer to the God of Israel. Thus, for example, it is stated with respect to Yehoachaz:


And Yehoachaz entreated the Lord, and the Lord hearkened to him; for he saw the oppression of Israel because the king of Aram oppressed them. And the Lord gave Israel a deliverer, so that they went out from under the hand of Aram; and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents, as in earlier times. Nevertheless, they did not depart from the sins of the house of Yarovam, who made Israel to sin, but continued in that; and the ashera remained also in Shomron. (ibid. 13:4-6)


It is possible to pray to the God of Israel, while at the same time maintain an ashera in Shomron, the calves in Dan and Bet-El, and bamot throughout the kingdom. It is clear that in such a situation, each of the components turns into something very partial, and the multiplication of modes of worship turns the matter into something very relative.


            We have briefly surveyed the most important spiritual phenomena in the kingdom of Israel. Let us now consider several noteworthy phenomena relating to our issue in the kingdom of Yehuda.




I. From the days of Rechavam to the days of Yehoshafat


            In the first period of the divided kingdom of Yehuda, there seems to still have been a certain influence of the bamot that were built in the days of Shlomo for idol worship.


            Scripture describes several general phenomena in Yehuda:


  • Bamot, pillars, asherim, and prostitution:


And Yehuda did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. For they also built high places for themselves, and pillars, and asherim, on every high hill and under every leafy tree. And there was also prostitution in the land; and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. (Melakhim I 14:22-24)


  • Obeying Shemayahu, the man of God:


Scripture in Divrei Ha-yamim goes into much greater detail regarding the various events that take place during the days of Rechavam. At first, Rechavam wishes to retake the kingdom of Israel through war, in reaction to which Shemayahu is told:


But the word of the Lord came to Shemayahu, the man of God, saying, “Speak to Rechavam the son of Shlomo, king of Yehuda, and to all Israel in Yehuda and Binyamin, saying: Thus says the Lord: You shall not go up, or fight against your brethren. Return every man to his house, for this thing was done by Me.” And they obeyed the words of the Lord, and returned from going against Yarovam. (Divrei Ha-yamim II 11:2-4)


            Scripture describes at length how Rechavam fortified his cities against Shishak and how he took many wives and concubines:


And it came to pass, when Rechavam had established the kingdom and had strengthened himself, he forsook the Torah of the Lord, and all Israel with him. And it came to pass that in the fifth year of king Rechavam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the Lord. (ibid. 12:1-2)


In the wake of Shishak's coming up against Jerusalem, Shemaya the prophet goes to Rechavam and the princes of Yehuda:


Then came Shemaya the prophet to Rechavam and to the princes of Yehuda, who were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and he said to them, “Thus says the Lord: You have forsaken Me, and therefore I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak.” Whereupon the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves, and they said, “The Lord is righteous.” And when the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the Lord came to Shemaya, saying, “They have humbled themselves; therefore, I will not destroy then, but I will grant them some deliverance, and My wrath shall not be poured out upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. Nevertheless, they shall be his servants; that they may know My service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.” (ibid. 5-8)


            However, in the verses that summarize the kingdom of Rechavam, it says:


And he did evil, because he did not set his heart to seek the Lord. (ibid. 14)


            It is possible that Scripture mentions that Rechavam reigned in Jerusalem, "the city which the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put His name there," in order to emphasize that the first king after Shlomo who ruled in Yehuda and in its capital, Jerusalem, the city which God had chosen to set His name there, transgressed against God.


            In fact, the king obeys the prophet and refrains from going out to war against Israel; they surrender, and Shishak therefore does not destroy Jerusalem.


            However, the spiritual situation described here with respect to the first king of Yehuda, who ruled in Jerusalem at the same time as Yarovam ruled over the kingdom of Israel, is not at all simple. After the death of Rechavam, Aviyam rules as king, and about him it says:


And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him; and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father. (Melakhim I 15:3)


            The next king is Asa:


And in the twentieth year of Yarovam king of Israel, Asa reigned over Yehuda… And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father. And he took away the male prostitutes out of the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. And also Ma'akha his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made a monstrous image for an ashera; and Asa destroyed her image and burnt it in the wadi Kidron. But the high places were not removed; nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord all his days. (ibid. 9-14)


The first part of Asa's reign certainly indicates spiritual and royal strengthening, which included destroying idols, calling out to God, obeying the prophet, and renewing the covenant with God. All this, however, was only until the thirty-fifth year of his reign.


            In the thirty-sixth year of his reign, when Ba'asha king of Israel goes up against Yehuda, Asa takes gold and silver from the Temple and royal treasuries and sends them to Ben Hadad king of Aram; he asks that in exchange for the money, Ben Hadad break his pact with Ba'asha king of Israel.


            This action displays two exceedingly difficult spiritual developments with respect to the kingdom. First, we witness the taking of Temple treasures on the initiative of the king; second, we see the king handing them over to a foreign king, in this case so that he may lighten the yoke of the king of Israel.[10]


            In a certain sense, this action testifies to a blurring of the boundaries between the realm of the monarchy over which the king is responsible – running the state - and the realm of the Temple, over which the priests are responsible. Taking the Temple treasures involved an infiltration on the part of the king of a realm that was not his, as if the Temple belonged to him. This was an assault on the Temple and its independence and an exploitation of its treasures in an unworthy manner - as payment to a foreign king for his services.


            The fact that such an action repeats itself in connection with other kings in other circumstances across the length of the kingdom of Yehuda testifies to a certain attitude on the part of the various kings.[11] Another phenomenon that is also found among other kings is dependence upon a foreign king in order to save themselves from an enemy who laid siege on Jerusalem.[12]


            These two phenomena point to the issue of boundaries - the boundaries of the rule and strength of a king of flesh and blood in relation to the kingdom of God. The question of boundaries arises both in the relationship between the king and the Temple – can the king do with it as with his own (taking the Temple treasures, cutting the Temple vessels in pieces and giving them to a foreign king) - and regarding the issue of the extent to which the king of Yehuda or the king of Israel should rely on a foreign king in his battles with hostile kings rather than relying on God.


            We have already related briefly to the righteousness of Yehoshafat.


2. From the days of Yehoram the son of Yehoshafat until the days of Amatzya


            We have already related to the influence of the house of Achav upon the kings who ruled after Yehoshafat – Yehoram, Achazyahu, Atalya and Yoash – and so we will not address this issue here.


            Regarding the days of Amatzya, we know that following the initial period, during which Amatzya did what was right in the eyes of God, he turns his attention to war against Edom. Over time, however, he undergoes gradual changes that distance him from the path of God:


Now it came to pass, after Amatzya came from the slaughter of the Adomim, that he brought the gods of the children of Se'ir, and set them up to be his gods, and prostrated himself before them, and burned incense to them. So that the anger of the Lord burned against Amatzyahu, and he sent to him a prophet, who said to him, “Why have you sought after the gods of the people, who could not deliver their own people out of your hand?” (Divrei Ha-yamim II 25:14-15)


This phenomenon of bringing the god of the enemies who had been defeated in battle and honoring them in order to appease them was well-accepted among the neighboring nations. On the other hand, it may be simpler to see in this an expression of his victory over the gods of Edom, similar to the actions of the Pelishtim, who brought the ark of God into the house of Dagan (Shmuel I 4-5). Scripture, however, testifies that Amatzia prostrated himself before them and set them up to be his gods in the wake of his victory.


            However we understand this conduct, we have here a legitimization of idol worship, despite the fact that the alien god had been defeated.


            The king's refusal afterwards to obey the prophet sharpens the king's position regarding the word of God. This is the first example of a king who returns with the gods of the people he had defeated, prostrates himself before them, and burns incense to them.


            In the next lecture, the final lecture of the year, we will complete our brief survey of the kingdom of Yehuda with respect to the worship of God from the days of Uziyahu until the days of Tzidkiyahu.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] When it says that Achav made an ashera, it apparently means that he made an idol of the goddess Ashera and worshipped it. Ashera was the goddess of the Tzidonians and the Tzorim, and the Ba'al was also central in the worship of Tzor and Tzidon.

[2] In this framework, we cannot deal in a comprehensive manner with the person and work of Achav, but we will note several facts that will slightly temper the sharp and unequivocal prophetic evaluation of him. First, there is the fact that he gives his children theophoric names in which the name of God is embedded – Achazya, Yehoram, and Atalya. Twice, Achav inquires among the prophets of God, and sometimes he obeys them and relates to their prophecies in a serious manner. He obeys Eliyahu in assembling the prophets on Mount Carmel, as well as the prophet who instructs him how to fight the king of Aram, who had laid seige on Shomron (Melakhim I 20). Similarly, after the incident involving Nevot (Melakhim I 21:27 and on), it says, "And it came to pass, when Achav heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of the Lord came to Eliyahu the Tishbi, saying, ‘Do you see how Achav humbles himself before Me? Because he humbles himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house.’" From here we see that Achav's repentance also influences the prophetic evaluation of him.

[3] As stated above, in this framework we shall not offer a comprehensive review of the period or of any particular king; our sole interest is the overall picture of the worship of God during this period.

[4] Yadin proposed in his day to identify the public structure uncovered at Ramat Rachel as the house of the Ba'al built in the days of Atalya in its first stages (as opposed to the view of Aharoni, who viewed this structure as the summer palace of king Yehoyakim); see Yigal Yadin, “Ir Bet Ha-Ba'al,” in Eretz Shomron: Ha-Kinnus Ha-Artzi Ha-30 Li-Yedi'at Ha-Aretz (Ha-Chevra Le-Chakirat Eretz Yisrael Ve-Atikoteha: Jerusalem, 5734), pp. 52-61.

[5] See Shir Ha-Shirim Rabba 1:2; Rashi, Melakhim II 11:2; and the commentary attributed to Rashi, Divrei Ha-Yamim II 22:11.

[6] Perhaps there is a connection between this midrash and the midrash cited earlier, and the image that Yoash wished to bring into the sanctuary was his own image.

[7] We will not discuss here the prophetic evaluation of Yehu's actions. We shall only note that with all his fulfillment of the commands connected to the destruction of the house of Achav, Yehu deviated from the prophetic command in his cruelty and scorn for human dignity, and he did not turn away from the sins of Yarovam. In this sense, he did not complete the religious revolution for the sake of which he was anointed king, and "he took no heed to walk in the Torah of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart" (Melakhim II 10:31).

[8] It is interesting that some of the sins are not specifically mentioned regarding certain kings, such as the passing of sons and daughters through fire. We will relate to the appearance of this phenomena later in the kingdom of Yehuda. The worship of Molekh exists during the days of Achaz, Menasheh, and Yehoyakim, and it constitutes an important cause of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Yirmiyahu 19).  

[9] As stated, in the framework of this series we cannot go into the details of the religious reality regarding each individual king. We will try to relate to the most important phenomena in the kingdom from the days of Rechavam to the days of Tzidkiyahu. By its very nature, this survey will be exceedingly concise.

[10] In addition, we are dealing here with a call to a foreign king that he should help the king of Yehuda fight against the king of Israel, with all that this entails regarding the unity of the two kingdoms.

[11] Thus, Yeho'ash king of Yehuda takes the hallowed things that Yehoshafat, Yehoram, and Achazyahu had consecrated and all the gold found in the treasures of the house of God and sends them to Chaza'el king of Aram (Melakhim II 12:19); Achaz sends a bribe to the king of Ashur (Melakhim II 16:8); Chizkiyahu not only gives the king of Ashur the treasures of the house of God and the house of the king, but even cuts off the doors of the Temple and the pilasters (Melakhim II 18:16); and king Yehoyachin cuts the gold vessels into pieces (Melakhim II 24:13).

[12] We see this, for example, with Achaz with respect to Ashur (Melakhim II 16:7) and Yechizkiyahu, who enters into a pact with Egypt against Ashur (Yeshayahu 30:1-5, 31:1-3).