Lecture 85: The Worship of God in the Kingdom of Yehuda from the Days of Uziyahu to the Days of Tzidkiyahu

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

Mikdash

 

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Lecture 85: The Worship of God in the kingdom of Yehuda from the days of Uziyahu to the days of Tzidkiyahu[1]

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

I.  FROM THE DAYS OF UZIYAHU UNTIL THE DAYS OF CHIZKIYAHU

 

1.  UZIYAHU

 

One of the most important historical events in the second half of the First Temple period was the great earthquake in the days of Uziyahu.  But despite its importance, we know little about it.  Yeshayahu appears to allude to it in one of his prophecies:

 

Therefore, She'ol has enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure.  And their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that is joyful shall go down into it.  (Yeshayahu 5:14)

 

            We learn about the importance of the event from the way it was used to date the prophecy of Amos:

 

The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Teko'a, which he saw concerning Israel in the day of Uziyah King of Yehuda, and in the days of Yarov'am the son of Yoash King of Israel, two years before the earthquake.  (Amos 1:1)

 

In the continuation of his prophecy, Amos makes several allusions to the earthquake (see Amos 3:14-15; 6:1; 9:1).  So great was the impression left by the earthquake that its memory was still alive in the period of the return to Zion, as mentioned by the prophet Zekharia:

 

Then shall the Lord go out, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle.  And His feet shall stand on that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split along the middle of it by a very great valley from east to west; and half of the mountain shall be removed towards the north, and half of it, towards the south.  And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Aztel.  And you shall flee, just as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uziya King of Yehuda; and the Lord my God shall come, and all the holy ones with you.  (Zekharia 14:3-5)

 

            The author of Seder Olam Rabba draws a connection between the earthquake and the vision with which Yeshayahu was consecrated for prophecy, in which he foresees the removal of the Shekhina from the Temple:

 

In the year that King Uziyahu died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the Temple.  Serafim stood above Him… And one cried to another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.  (Yeshayahu 6:1-4)[2]

 

In Amos it says: "Two years before the earthquake," and in Yeshayahu it says: "In the year that King Uziyahu died, etc." That was the day of the earthquake, as it is written: "And the posts of the door moved, etc." (Seder Olam Rabba 20)

 

            Rashi, in his commentary to Yeshayahu’s prophecy (6:6), connects it and the earthquake to King Uziyahu's entry into the sanctuary in order to burn incense:

 

"At the voice of him that cried" – at the voice of the angels who were crying out.  Now this occurred on the day of the earthquake, about which it is stated: "And you shall flee, just as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uziya" (Zekharia 14:5).  On that very day, Uziya stood up to burn incense in the sanctuary.  The heavens thundered to burn him, that is to say, he was liable to death by burning, as it is stated: "And it consumed the two hundred and fifty men" (Bamidbar 16:35).  And this is why it calls them "Serafim," because they came to burn him.  The earth thundered to swallow him; it thought that he was liable to be swallowed up like Korach, who challenged the priesthood.  A heavenly voice issued forth and said: "To be a memorial to the children of Israel, [that no stranger, who is not of the seed of Aharon, come near to offer incense before the Lord, that he be not like Korach and his company, as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moshe]" (ibid.  17:5).  "That he be not" – another person who challenges the priesthood; "like Korach" – to be swallowed up; "and his company" – to be burned; but rather "as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moshe" at the burning bush – "Put now your hand into your bosom" (Shemot 4:6), and he took it out diseased, white as snow - here too tzara'at broke out on [Uziyahu's] forehead.

 

The midrash cited by Rashi appears in a very similar formulation in the Tanchuma (Tzav 70) and with changes in the Yalkut Shimoni:

 

"In the year that king [Uziyahu] died" – Did he die? Rather, he was afflicted with tzara'at, and one who is afflicted with tzara'at is regarded as dead, as it is stated: "Let her not be as one dead" (Bamidbar 12:12).  "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the Temple" – these are the young priests who were with Uziyahu.  And "His train" [shulav] refers to priests, as it is stated: "Upon the hem [shulei] of the robe" (Shemot 28:34).  "Serafim stood" – for the fire was ready to consume Uziya as it had consumed Korach and his company.  "Above [mi-ma'al] Him" – because of the trespass [ma'al] that he committed.  And he said to him: Go out, for you have committed trespass.  And the earth opened its mouth to swallow him up, as it is stated: "And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Atzal; and you shall flee, just as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uziya, king of Yehuda" (Zekharia 14:5).  And from where do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him to Moshe? As it is stated: "To be a memorial to the children of Israel, that no stranger… come near" (Bamidbar 17:5).  Moshe said to him: Even from the seed of Aharon? He said to him: "Who is not of the seed of Aharon" (ibid.).  Will You do to him as You did to Korach and his company? He said to him: "That he be not like Korach and his company" (ibid.).  What will You do to him? As I had put tzara'at on your arm: "As the Lord said to him by the hand of Moshe" (ibid.).  (Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu 404)

 

What led to the earthquake and to the removal of the Shekhina from the Temple, according to Chazal, was King Uziyahu's entry into the sanctuary to burn incense.  Divrei Ha-yamim relates the following about this king:

 

Sixteen years old was Uziyahu when he began to reign, and he reigned for fifty two years in Jerusalem… And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord… And he sought God in the days of Zekharyahu, who had understanding in the visions of God.  And as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.  And he went forth and warred against the Pelishtim… And God helped him against the Pelishtim, and against the Arvim… And the Amonim rendered tribute to Uziyahu, and his name spread abroad to the entrance of Egypt, for he strengthened himself exceedingly.  Moreover, Uziyahu built towers in Jerusalem… and fortified them.  And he built towers in the desert and dug many wells.  For he had much cattle, both in the lowland and in the plains.  He had farmers, and vinedressers in the mountains and in the Karmel, for he loved the soil.  Moreover, Uziyahu had a host of fighting men … an army of 307,500, who made war with mighty power to help the king against the enemy.  And Uziyahu prepared for them throughout all the host shields, and spears, and helmets, and coats of mail, and bows, and stones for slinging.  And in Jerusalem he made engines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones.  And his name spread far abroad; for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.

But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction.  For he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.  And Azaryahu the priest went in after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, who were men of valor.  And they withstood Uziyahu the King, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uziyahu, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aharon who are consecrated to burn incense.  Go out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed; for it shall not be for your honor from the Lord God.”

Then Uziyahu was angry, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense.  And while he was angry with the priests, the tzara'at broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar.  And Azaryahu the chief priest and all the priests looked upon him, and behold, he was diseased in his forehead, and they thrust him out quickly from there; and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.  And Uziyahu the King was afflicted with tzra'at to the day of his death, and dwelt in the house of separation, being diseased; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord.  And Yotam his son was over the king's hose, judging the people of the land.  Now the rest of the acts of Uziyahu, first and last, did Yeshayahu the prophet, the son of Amotz, write.  So Uziyahu slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the field of burial which belonged to the kings; for they said, “He is diseased.” And Yotam his son reigned in his stead.  (Divrei Ha-yamim II 26:1-23)

 

            Uziyahu's enormous military and political strength (alluded to by his name), his mighty army, his victories, his grand construction projects, and the international esteem which he had earned – all these planted pride and arrogance in his heart "to his destruction," which reached their climax when he entered the sanctuary to burn incense.  The midrash recounts:

 

Regarding Uziyah it is written, "For he loved the soil" (Divrei Ha-yamim II 26:10) – he was king and he abandoned himself to the soil, having no connection to Torah.  One day, he came to the bet midrash and said to them: In what are you occupied?

They said to him: Regarding "And the stranger that comes near shall be put to death" (Bamidbar 1:51). 

Uziya said to them: The Holy One, blessed be He, is King, and I am king.  It is appropriate for a king to serve a King and burn incense before Him.  Immediately, "he went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense"… Immediately, "Uziyahu was angry, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense.  And while he was angry with the priests, the tzara'at broke out on his forehead." At that very moment, the sanctuary split this way and that way twelve square miles.[3] "And they thrust him out quickly from there; and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him." What caused him to do this? Because he neglected the Torah and abandoned himself to the soil.  (Tanchuma Noach 13)

 

            This midrash once again emphasizes the sin appearing among various kings of Yehuda - the blurring of the difference between the kingdom of flesh and blood and the kingdom of God.  This is what brought Uziyahu to enter the sanctuary and burn incense before God, in an attempt to seize control of the priestly functions, and in the wake of this he also brought about the great earthquake and the removal of the Shekhina.

 

This course of events is described in detail by Josephus Flavius:

 

While Uziya was in this state, and making preparation [for the future], he was corrupted in his mind by pride, and became insolent, and this on account of that abundance which he had of things that will soon perish, and despised that power which is of eternal duration (which consisted in piety towards God, and in the observation of the laws); so he fell by occasion of the good success of his affairs, and was carried headlong into those sins of his father, which the splendor of that prosperity he enjoyed, and the glorious actions he had done, led him into, while he was not able to govern himself well about them.  Accordingly, when a special day came and a general festival was to be celebrated, he put on the holy garment and went into the Temple to offer incense to God upon the golden altar, which he was prohibited to do by Azaryahu the High Priest, who had fourscore priests with him, and who told him that it was not lawful for him to offer sacrifice, and that "none besides the posterity of Aharon were permitted so to do." And when they cried out that he must go out of the Temple and not transgress against God, he was wroth at them, and threatened to kill them, unless they would hold their peace.  In the meantime, a great earthquake shook the ground and a rent was made in the Temple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it, and fell upon the king's face, insomuch that tzara'at seized upon him immediately.  And before the city, at a place called Ein Rogel, half the mountain broke off from the rest on the west, and rolled itself four furlongs, and stood still at the east mountain, till the roads, as well as the king's gardens, were spoiled by the obstruction.  Now, as soon as the priests saw that the king's face was infected with tzara'at, they told him of the calamity he was under and commanded that he should go out of the city as a polluted person.[4]

 

            Yeshayahu's prophecy opens, then, with great wrath and with the beginning of the Shekhina's departure in the wake of Uziyahu's pride, his confidence in his own strength and greatness, and his comparing himself to God.  All of these factors brought Uziyahu to try to take control of the priestly service and enter the sanctuary in order to burn incense.

 

            A connection exists, then, between the sins of Shlomo, Yoash, and Uziyahu.  All of them failed to limit their monarchy to its original objectives, blurring the difference between their kingdom and the kingdom of God, because pride, glory, and self-enhancement had taken hold of them.

 

II.         ACHAZ

 

Achaz's reign was utterly unfit.  He rejected the words of the prophet, subjugated himself to the king of Assyria, and desecrated the Temple.  The gemara states that Achaz stopped the Temple service, sealed the Torah, and permitted incestuous relationships (Sanhedrin 103b), and it would appear from Scripture that he committed other sins as well.

 

Achaz was the first king to serve the Molekh: "But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations" (Melakhim II 16:3).  Thus, without a doubt, Achaz served as poor example for the entire people, who also began to serve the Molekh.  This abominable rite, which combines elements of idol worship, incest, and bloodshed, is found again in Yehuda in the days of Menashe and Yehoyakim, and it is not by chance that the prophet Yirmiyahu sees it as inevitably leading to the destruction of the city (Yirmiyahu 19).

 

Achaz also rejected the word of God as found in the Torah and in the mouth of His prophets.  He refused to ask God for a sign (Yeshayahu 7:10-12), and it is about his days that the prophet said: "Bind up the testimony, seal the Torah among My disciples" (Yeshayahu 8:15).

 

Achaz's absolute political subjugation to the king of Assyria ("I am your servant and your son - come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who have risen against me;" Melakhim II 16:7) had far-reaching spiritual ramifications.  (Of course, the very reliance on a foreign king involves a certain denial of God's reign.) Even before the Assyrian subjugation, Yehuda and Jerusalem were already replete with idolatry (Melakhim II 16:6; Divrei Ha-yamim II 28:2-3); but now, Achaz closed the Temple, cut its vessels, sent its treasures as a bribe to the king of Assyria, and built an altar in the Temple courtyard to the gods of Damasek and offered sacrifices on it (Melakhim II 16:8, 12-18; Divrei Ha-yamim II 28:21-24; 29:6-7).  Here too, Achaz bore guilt for being the first – the first king who dared to close the Temple and establish in its place the worship of other gods, a sacrilege of the highest order.

 

How did Achaz come to this terrible state? Perhaps he understood that with the removal of the Shekhina from the Temple in the days of Uziyahu his grandfather, "the Lord has forsaken the land" (Yechezkel 8:12; 9:9).  Therefore, he utterly despaired of walking in the path of God and heeding the prophet's guidance, and instead turned to save his kingdom in his own way – by subjugating himself to the world power of Assyria.

 

III.        CHIZKIYAHU

 

Despite his righteousness, it was in the days of Chizkiyahu that we read the first explicit prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple (Mikha 3:12 and Yirmiyahu 23:18) and the first explicit prophecy concerning the exile to Bavel (Melakhim II 20:16-18).  Why did two such harsh prophecies come precisely in the days of this righteous king?

 

Despite the impressive beginning of Chizkiyahu's reign, which found expression in the renewal of the Temple service and the king's close connection to the prophet and the Torah, Chizkiyahu decided – apparently, already early on in his life – to fight against the Assyrian superpower, and for this purpose he entered into an alliance with Egypt (Yeshayahu 30-31).  The spiritual meaning of this act is the negation of the Exodus from Egypt and the covenant with God associated with it.  The covenant with Egypt indicated a return to the situation that preceded God's declaration, "I am the Lord your God who took you out from the land of Egypt from the house of bondage;" it represented subordination to another superpower instead of absolute subordination to God.

 

With Sancheriv's invasion of Yehuda and his conquest of its fortified cities, Chizkiyahu begged forgiveness from the king of Ashur and paid the tribute cast upon him from Temple funds, from the doors of the sanctuary, and from the pilasters that he himself had overlaid with gold (Melakhim II 18:14-15).

 

Moreover, by focusing on this international activity, Chizkiyahu abandoned his primary mission, an internal spiritual, moral, and social mission – to establish the kingdom upon justice (Yeshayahu 9:6) – and in large measure he left the internal arena in the hands of his officers, Shevna the scribe standing out as the most evil among them.  As a result, moral corruption spread through all the institutions of the regime – the priests, the prophets, and the officers – and it stands to reason that in their wake also through a large part of the nation.  It was this corruption that brought about the first prophecy concerning the destruction of the city (Mikha 3; we find similar criticism about the corruption of the city, but without a prophecy concerning its destruction, in Yeshayahu 1).

 

Chizkiyahu was also guilty of arrogance: "But Yechizkiyahu did not pay back according to the benefit done to him; for his heart was proud.  Therefore, wrath came upon him, and upon Yehuda and Jerusalem" (Divrei Ha-yamim II 32:25).  A king who is preoccupied with entering into alliances with regional powers against a global power will have difficulty not succumbing to arrogance, and the direct ramification is a certain eating away at the kingdom of God.

 

The blurring of the boundaries between human kingdom and the kingdom of God was caused in part by the king's inflated image of himself, his position, and his wealth – this coming at the cost of revealing God's kingdom in the kingdom of man.  In the case of Chizkiyahu, this process found expression in his showing his treasures to the delegation of the king of Bavel – the very treasures that had come into his possession as spoil from the plague that befell the Assyrian army and saved Jerusalem.  Thus, Chizkiyahu indirectly attributed his victory to himself and belittled the great salvation brought about by God.  It was in the wake of this conduct that a prophecy concerning the exile to Babylonia was first heard (see Melakhim II 20:12-19; Yeshayahu 39; Shir Ha-shirim Rabba 3:4).

 

II.  FROM THE DAYS OF MENASHE UNTIL THE DAYS OF TZIDKIYAHU

 

1.  MENASHE

 

Menashe was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem.  And his mother's name was Cheftziba.  And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the nations, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.  For he built up again the high places which Chizkiyahu his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for the Ba'al, and made an ashera, as did Achav king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.  And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, “In Jerusalem will I put My name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.  And he caused his son to pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with mediums and wizards.  He did much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger…

And the Lord spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, Because Menashe king of Yehuda has done these abominations and has done wickedly above all that the Emori did, which were before him, and has made Yehuda also to sin with his idols – therefore, thus says the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Yehuda that whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle.  And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Shomron, and the plummet of the house of Achav; and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipes a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down.  And I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which was evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, and to this day.

(Melakhim II 21:1-15)

 

            Menashe the son of Chizkiyahu is, then, the first king about whom it was stated that the destruction came on his account.  The expression "whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle" appears also in connection with the destruction of Shilo (Shmuel I 3:11), and the phrases "the measuring line of Shomron" and "the plummet of the house of Achav" relate to the destruction of Shomron.  Associating the upcoming calamity with two cases of destruction that already took place makes it real and concrete.  Yirmiyahu also hangs the destruction on Menashe:

 

And I will make them into a horror for all the kingdoms of the earth, on account of Menashe the son of Yechizkiyahu king of Yehuda, for that which he did in Jerusalem.  (Yirmiyahu 15:4)

 

            The verses in Divrei Ha-yamim tell of Menashe's repentance:

 

And the Lord spoke to Menashe, and to his people, but they would not hearken.  So that the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Ashur, who took Menashe among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Bavel.  And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, and heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom.  Then, Menashe knew that the Lord was God… And he took away the strange gods and the idol out of the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem and cast them out of the city.  And he repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed on it peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings, and commanded Yehuda to serve the Lord God of Israel.  (Divrei Ha-yamim II 33:10-16)

 

            Scripture does not spell out how deep and lasting Menashe's repentance was and to what extent it repaired the sins that he had committed and had caused Israel to perform.  It is reasonable to assume that the many years of his sinful regime had an exceedingly great impact on the people.  The matter seems to be clarified by the prophecy of Chulda that followed the discovery of the Torah scroll during the days of Yoshiyahu, which implies that Menashe's repentance did not succeed in erasing his sins and their impact and that the prophecy of destruction that was delivered in his days remained in force despite his repentance and despite the righteousness of Yoshiyahu.[5]

 

Thus says the Lord: Behold I will bring evil upon this place, and upon its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Yehuda has read - because they have forsaken Me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands.  Therefore, My wrath shall be kindled against this place and shall not be quenched.  But to the king of Yehuda who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him: Thus says the Lord God of Israel: Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you have humbled yourself before the Lord, when you did hear what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have rent your clothes, and wept before Me; I also have heard you, says the Lord.  Behold - therefore, I will gather you unto your fathers, and you shall be gathered into your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place.  (Melakhim II 22:16-20)

 

            As Scripture testifies, to the absence of justice in the days of Chizkiyahu, there was added during the period of Menashe the sins of idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and bloodshed.

 

            The absence of justice that we encountered during the days of Chizkiyahu among the heads of the people spread during the days of Menashe to the entire nation, as it follows from one of Yirmiyahu's prophecies relating, as it would appear, to the period of Menashe:[6]

 

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in its broad places - if you can find a man, if there be any that does justice, that seeks the truth, and I will pardon it.  And though they say, “As the Lord lives,” surely they swear falsely…

For among My people are found wicked men: they lie in wait, as he that sets snares; they set a trap, they catch men.  As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit.  Therefore, they have become great and grown rich…

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Hew down trees and cast up a mound against Jerusalem.  This is the city to be punished; there is oppression everywhere in the midst of her.  As a well keeps its water fresh, so she keeps fresh her wickedness; violence and spoil, grief and wound, is heard in her before Me continually…

For from the least of them even to the greatest of them everyone is greedy for gain; and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.  (Yirmiyahu 5-6)

 

Idol worship

 

            The extensive and varied idol worship of Menashe is described in the book of Melakhim (see also the parallels in Divrei Ha-yamim II 33:3 and on):

 

For he built up again the high places which Chizkiyahu his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for the Ba'al, and made an ashera… and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them… And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.  And he caused his son to pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with mediums and wizards; he did much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.

 

            Scripture also alludes that Menashe's actions brought the selection of the city and the Temple to an end:

 

And he set the carved idol of the ashera that he had made in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Shlomo his son: In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of tribes of Israel, will I put My name for ever.

 

            Scripture also attests explicitly during the days of Yoshiyahu that despite his repentance, God did not turn back from His anger and from His rejection of Jerusalem and the Temple in the days of Menashe:

 

Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn back from the fierceness of that great anger with which His anger burned against Yehuda, on account of all the provocations with which Menashe had provoked him.  And the Lord said: I will remove Yehuda also out of My sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, “My name shall be there.” (Melakhim II 23:26-27)

 

            During the days of Yehoyakim as well, the prophet makes explicit mention of Menashe's share of the responsibility for the destruction:

 

Yehoyakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign… And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done… Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Yehuda, to remove them out of His sight, for the sins of Menashe, according to all that he did, and also for the innocent blood that he shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon.  (Melakhim II 23:36-24:4)

 

            In various places, Chazal note the great extent and severity of the idol worship during the period of Menashe:

 

Menashe… did not forgo a single idolatrous practice in the world.  (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 10:2)

 

R. Ashi terminated the lecture at "Three Kings." He said: "Tomorrow, we will commence with our colleagues."  [That night,] Menashe came and appeared to him in a dream, saying: "You have called us your colleagues and the colleagues of your father; now, from what part [of the bread] is [the piece for reciting] the ha-motzi to be taken?" He said to him: "I do not know." He said to him: "You have not learned this, yet you call us your colleagues!" He said to him: "Teach it to me, and tomorrow I will teach it in your name at the session." He said to him: "From the part that is baked into a crust."  He then asked him: "Since you are so wise, why did you worship idols?" He answered: "Were you there, you would have caught up the skirt of your garment and sped after me." The next day, he observed to the students: "We will commence with our teachers [so referring to the Three Kings]." (Sanhedrin 102b)

 

            Other midrashim emphasize that through his actions, Menashe was trying – and even succeeded – to bring God's resting of His Shekhina to an end:

 

Menashe cut out the Divine Name [from the Torah] and broke down the altar.  (ibid.  103b)

 

The fire that came down during the days of Shlomo did not depart until Menashe came and caused it to leave.  (Zevachim 61b)

 

When Menashe erected the image in the sanctuary, the Shekhina departed.  (Yalkut Ha-Mekhiri, Tehillim 115, 22)

 

            We see, then, that beginning in the days of Menashe, the structure of the Temple stood in its place, but the Shekhina no longer rested therein.  As it is stated in the Yerushalmi:

 

R. Acha bar Yitzchak said: When Shlomo built the Temple, he drew all kinds of trees on the inside.  When they would bear fruit [on the outside], these trees on the inside would bear fruit.  This is what is written: "It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing, etc." (Yeshayahu 35:2).  When did they dry up? R. Yitzchak Chinena bar Yitzchak said: They dried up when Menashe erected an image in the sanctuary, as it is written: "And the flower of Lebanon fades" (Nachum 1:4).  (Yerushalmi, Yoma 4:4)

 

In other words, the physical structure of the Temple continued to exist, but its vitality had already ceased.

 

            Against this background, we well understand Yoshiyahu's decision to conceal the ark (Tosefta, Sota 13:1; Bavli, Yoma 52b) and the prophetic assertion that it was on account of the sins of Menashe that the Temple was destroyed.  It is upon the ark that the Shekhina rests in the Temple, and there is no place for an ark in a Temple in which the Shekhina does not reside.  Such a Temple has no right to exist, and is destined for destruction.

 

BLOODSHED

 

            We already cited the following verses from the book of Melakhim:

 

Moreover, Menashe shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.  (Melakhim II 21:16)

 

And also for the innocent blood that he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon.  (ibid.  24:4)

 

Obviously, passing his sons through the fire (ibid.  21:6) was an act of murder, according to the plain sense of the verses and the Ramban's understanding (Vayikra 18:21).  According to rabbinic tradition (Yevamot 49b, Sanhedrin 103b), Menashe killed the prophet Yeshayahu, and that too constituted a kind of a removal of the Shekhina.

 

ILLICIT SEXUAL RELATIONS

 

            Scripture does not make explicit mention of such a sin, but Chazal – in keeping with their position that the first Temple was destroyed on account of idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and bloodshed – included Menashe in the list of wicked kings at the end of the first Temple period who were guilty of such forbidden relations: "Achaz permitted incestuous relations, Menashe had sexual relations with his sister, Amon had sexual relations with his mother" (Sanhedrin 103b).  It is also stated in the vision of Barukh: "He defiled married women by force" (ed.  Kahana, pp.  396-397).

 

2.  YEHOYAKIM

 

            The sins committed by Achaz and Menashe – idol worship, illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, and moral corruption – are all described in Yirmiyahu's prophecy at the gate of the Temple in chapter 7, which is dated to the days of Yehoyakim based on the parallelism with chap.  26,[7] and which is one of the most important prophecies[8] about the sins of that generation and the destruction that will follow in their wake.

 

            This prophecy clearly describes the sins of illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, idol worship and moral corruption.  It joins other testimony to these sins found elsewhere in the words of the prophets and in the words of Chazal.

 

            The most important prophecy about the injustice that ruled during the period of Yehoyakim is chapter 22 of the book of Yirmiyahu, in which the prophet contrasts the corruption of Yehoyakim with the righteousness of his father, Yoshiyahu.

 

            There is no need to expand on the idol worship and service of the Molekh that were practiced at the end of the first Temple period; the prophecies of the period are filled with reproaches about these sins.

 

            As for the sin of illicit sexual relations, let us note the words of the midrash concerning Yehoyakim:

 

"Now the rest of the acts of Yehoyakim, and all that he did, etc." (Melakhim II 24:5).  R. Yochanan said: Because he had sexual relations with his mother, his daughter-in-law, and his father's wife.  For R. Yochanan said: The opening from which he emerged [his mother] he entered.  R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: … He would kill their husbands and abuse their wives and confiscate their property for the crown treasury.  This is what is written: "And he knew their widows" (Yechezkel 19:7).  (Vayikra Rabba 19:6)

 

As in the days of Menashe, in the period of Yehoyakim as well the prophets were singled out as targets for scheming plots.  Yirmiyahu himself was almost killed for his harsh prophecy at the Temple gate (which was apparently the prophecy in chap.  7 itself, see note 6).  The account of that almost-murder describes in passing the murder of another prophet at the hand of Yehoyakim, as is related in chapter 26.[9]

 

            From all that we have seen thus far, we see the significant correspondence between the sins of Yehoyakim and his people and the sins of Menashe: the intensive and varied worship of idols and the Molekh; the adultery and incest; the shedding of innocent blood and other moral travesties; and the rejection of the word of God and any connection with Him, to the point of killing His prophets and burning their words.  We can summarize by saying that the period of Yehoyakim constitutes a natural continuation of the period of Menashe.

 

However, the harsh prophecy of rebuke in Yirmiyahu 7 indicates an important difference between the two kings.  In the days of Menashe, we get the impression that the worship of idols replaced the service of God.  In the days of Yehoyakim, on the other hand, the Temple service continued alongside all the abominable practices.  And furthermore, the people viewed the Temple and the sacrificial service conducted therein as a sort of "insurance" against having to pay a heavy price for their sins. 

 

            Menashe emptied the Temple of its vitality and soul, but the full expression of this came only in the days of Yehoyakim.  From a rite filled with spiritual and religious content, the Temple and sacrificial service turned into an external rite of a technical-magical nature, whose very performance was seen as protecting its practitioners, even without any religious or moral commitment on their part.  The very existence of the Temple and its capacity to protect Israel were viewed as self-evident and unchanging – as is attested to by the reaction of the people, the priests, and the prophets to Yirmiyahu's prophecy in chap.  26.  This feeling of trust in "the Temple of the Lord" and its eternal quality turned into a supreme value, which did not take into account the balance of military and political power between Yehuda and its neighbors, on the one hand, and the conduct of the people, on the other.[10] It is not by chance that the prophet compares the impending destruction of Jerusalem to the destruction of Shilo, which also stemmed from a blind faith and absolute trust in the power of the holy ark, in total detachment from moral and religious commitment and against the background of the severe actions of Chofni and Pinchas, the sons of Eli, in the Mishkan (see Shmuel I 2-4).

 

3.  THe exile of Yehoyakhin, the days of Tzidkiyahu, and the destruction of the temple

 

            During the time of Yehoyakim, Egypt's role as a regional power diminished, and in its place came the Kasdim.  Like his uncle Yehoachaz, Yehoyakhin the son of Yehoyakim had also been ruling for only three months when he was arrested and sent into exile by a foreign king – this time Nevukhadnetzar the king of Bavel.  The treasures of the house of God, the treasures of the king's house, the vessels of the house of God, all the princes, all the mighty warriors, and all the craftsmen and the smiths go into exile together with Yehoyakhin.  The land of Yehuda loses its ruling class, its uppermost percentile; and the Temple, which had already lost its spiritual grace in the days of Menashe, now loses its material splendor, it being emphasized that Shlomo's work is thereby cancelled.  In place of Yehoyakhin, Nevukhadnetzar appoints as king his uncle Matanya and changes his name (as Pharaoh Nekho had done in his day) to Tzidkiyahuthe last of the kings of Yehuda.

 

            In Divrei Ha-yamim, the description of the destruction is much more concise, but it clearly emphasizes the spiritual significance of the sins of the last generations of the first Temple period (Divrei Ha-yamim II 36:11-21)

 

            One of the most important prophets during this period was Yechezkel, who lived in Bavel among those who had been exiled in the days of Yehoyakhin, and prophesied from there about the sins of Jerusalem and the impending destruction.  In his prophecies, he mentions all the sins that we saw in the days of Tzidkiyahu's predecessors, to which he adds another sin: the rebellion against Nevukhadnetzar.  The people had refused to listen to Yirmiyahu's warnings against such action (see, for example, Yirmiyahu 21:27-29, 37), and Yechezkel relates to their conduct with great severity and sees in it the breaking of a covenant and a desecration of God's name. 

 

            Allusions to illicit sexual relations and acts of bloodshed are scattered in various places in the book of Yechezkel (see, for example, 33:26).  The prophecy in chapter 22 lists many sins of Yehuda, placing special emphasis on the crime of bloodshed.  It would also appear that it is not by chance that two of Yechezkel's harshest prophecies – in chap.  16 and in chap.  23 (which not for naught adjoins the prophecy of the destruction that was delivered on the day that the siege of the city was established [chap.  24]) – the prophet chooses to criticize the treachery of the king and the nation against God, and their zealous pursuit of foreign cultures and their abominations, using the most blatant imagery of prostitution.

 

            Yechezkel also relates at length to the sins of idol worship committed at that time.  In chapter 6, the prophet describes the destruction of the idols scattered throughout all of Israel.  Chapters 8-11 constitute a single prophecy, in which the prophet is carried in a prophetic vision to Jerusalem, where he sees the abominations performed in the Temple, the preparations being made for the punishment of the city, and the removal of the Shekhina.

 

            As we saw with respect to Menashe and Yehoyakim, here too the prophet describes many and varied types of idol worship.  Here, however, the idolatrous practices are being performed in the Temple itself! This results in the completion of the process of the removal of the Shekhina which began in the days of Uziyahu and continued in the days of Menashe.

 

            So great was the wickedness that in chapter 16, Yechezkel compares Jerusalem to Sedom and presents the sins of the former as greater than those of the latter; in several places, he asserts that violence caused the destruction.  Even the prophecy in chapter 8, where the prophet envisions the idol worship practiced in the Temple itself, hangs the Temple's destruction on the people's violent and oppressive conduct.

 

            From the same prophecy, we also learn that this conduct stemmed from the feeling (which apparently came in the wake of the exile of Yehoyakhin and the Babylonian penetration into the land) that "The Lord has forsaken the land," and thus all moral and religious obligations have been cancelled.

 

            In chapter 22, Yechezkel describes a varied series of sins in all the realms dealt with above and among all strata of society, from its leaders to the people of the land.  Besides the fact that he describes the abominations in the last years preceding the destruction – that is, during the days of Tzidkiyahuthis chapter constitutes, in its scope and severity, a summary of the difficult picture that we have outlined above. 

 

II.  Summary

 

            On the one hand, we have seen the fundamental role played by the king, his policies, and his personal example in the fashioning of the kingdom, as is exemplified by Chizkiyahu and Yoshiyahu in their great effort to restore Yehuda to the path of God despite the many difficulties that stood before them.  On the other hand, we have seen the limits to the king's power against the decisive influence of other factors: office holders, courtiers, and above all else, the norms of society.  The king did not always succeed in uprooting the prevailing patterns of behavior, and he was not always able to successfully overcome powerful elements in his kingdom.  Evidence to this is provided by the days of Menashe son of Chizkiyahu and the days of Yehoyakim son of Yoshiyahu, on the one hand, and the evil influence of Shevna (in the days of Chizkiyahu) and the officers of Tzidkiyahu, on the other.

 

            The constant problem that forms the backdrop for the monarchy of the house of David relates to the limits of the authority, strength, and rule of a king of flesh and blood in relation to the kingdom of God.  This is the key to understanding the king's behavior in all areas, and especially with respect to his relationship to the Temple and the priesthood, on the one hand, and prophecy, which represents the word of God, on the other.  A perverted attitude regarding these authorities is one of the prominent expressions of the king's feelings of inflated arrogance and confidence and of the blurring of the boundaries between his kingdom and the kingdom of God.  As we have seen, this blurring began already at the beginning of the first Temple period, in the days of Shlomo, and it worsened over time, beginning with the use of the treasures of God's Temple, continuing with the king's entry into the sanctuary to burn incense, and ending with the establishment of idol worship in the house of God and the killing of a priest and a prophet in the Temple.  We see, then, that at first this blurring of boundaries prevented righteous kings from serving God in perfect manner, and in the end it served as the basis for the absolute corruption of the kingdom and the Temple.

 

A straight line connects the wicked kings of the second half of the First Temple period – Achaz, Menashe, Yehoyakim, Yehoyakhin and Tzidkiyahu.  The abominations common to all of them include the most severe transgressions: idol worship, illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, and serious sins between man and his fellow.

 

The idol worship included a wide variety of forbidden practices and was at times performed in the Temple itself as a substitute for the service of God.  The illicit sexual relations and bloodshed also assumed many and varied forms.  These three most severe transgressions – all of which are included in the despicable service of the Molekh – testify to the evil influences of neighboring cultures, on the one hand, and to Israel's growing disregard of God and their connection to Him, with all the demands that it dictates, on the other.

 

All this notwithstanding, the first explicit prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple – the prophecy of Mikhawas delivered in the days of Chizkiyahu, during whose period there was no idol worship, no illicit sexual relations, and no bloodshed.  The background for this prophecy was the moral corruption that spread through all the ruling institutions.  From that time on, the absence of justice and righteousness stands out even in the most evil times (the periods of Menashe, Yehoyakim and Tzidkiyahu) as a fundamental cause of the destruction.  (Moreover, there is often a connection between idol worship and moral corruption in interpersonal relations.) The cessation of justice found expression at every level of the relationships between man and his fellow, from the king and his officers down to the people of the land.  This included greed, oppression, violence, theft, falsehood, slander, gossip, groundless hate, and the most extreme expression – the shedding of innocent blood.  Justice is the foundation of God's kingdom in His world, and its absence prevents the continued revelation of His kingdom and the resting of the Shekhina in His Temple.

 

The prophecies that explicitly speak of the destruction continue in the days of Menashe and hang the impending calamity upon him; in the days of Menashe "the soul of the Temple" was extinguished, and the process of the Shekhina's removal began.  Even Menashe's repentance failed to effect an essential change in the situation and change the decree, as is emphasized by the prophets not only of his day but also in the time of Yoshiyahu.  Despite his great repentance, it was precisely in his day that the ark was hidden away – the ark which more than anything else gave expression to the resting of God's Shekhina in the world.

 

Yehoyakim repeats the wicked deeds of Menashe with one fundamental difference - parallel to all the abominations, the Temple service continues.  The Temple service was viewed by the people of the period as sort of an "insurance policy" for God's presence in the world, and this feeling turned the Temple service into technical-automatic actions, which freed the individual and the kingdom from all moral and religious commitment.

 

The period ends with the days of Tzidkiyahu, and the practice of all types of abominations that push aside the feet of the Shekhina, based on the understanding that "the Lord has forsaken the land" - a feeling of despair of God's presence, which allows the king and the kingdom to act as they please in all areas.

 

The removal of the Shekhina from the city and the Temple, the completion of which is described in the book of Yechezkel, is, then, a direct result of complex processes that began already in the time of Shlomo and continued to the very end of the First Temple period.

 

With this, we complete this year's series of lectures, which dealt with the resting of the Shekhina from Israel's entry into the land until the destruction of the First Temple.  We hope to open next year's series with a lecture dealing with the structure of the Mishkan and its meaning.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] The goal of this lecture is to offer a survey of a lengthy period, from the days of Uziyahu to the days of Tzidkiyahu.  This being the case, we often do not bring the full citations, and therefore it is highly recommended that the reader open the original sources in order to fully understand the lecture. 

[2] Regarding this prophecy being a description of the removal of the Shekhina, see, for example the words of R.  Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari (IV, 3): "At other times he [the prophet] sees wrath poured out and the people in mourning on account of their threatened abandonment by Him, 'Who is sitting upon a throne high and lifted up… above it stood the Serafim.'"

[3] The source for this description of the splitting of the sanctuary is in the words of R.  Shimon ben Elazar in Avot De-Rabbi Natan 9:3.

[4] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book IX, pars.  222-227.

[5] There is also room to discuss the extent to which the changes made during the period of Chizkiyahu succeeded in taking root among the people in the aftermath of the sins of Achaz.  The question is sharpened in light of the fact that during the period of Menashe there was, in many senses, a return to the sins of Achaz (idolatry, service of the Molekh, and others). 

[6] Even though the chapter lacks a heading assigning it to a particular period, it is commonly assumed that it belongs to the period of Menashe.  It is found at the beginning of the book, while the first prophecies explicitly associated with the period of Yehoyakim appear only later in the book, and the content of the chapter is inappropriate for the period of Yoshiyahu.  In light of the fact that Yirmiyahu 36:2 implies that Yirmiyahu only began to prophesy during the days of Yoshiyahu, we emphasize that the prophecy relates to the period of Menashe, but we assume that it was delivered at the beginning of the period of Yoshiyahu and that it relates to the situation that prevailed in the wake of the sins of Menashe. 

[7] Compare this prophecy to what is stated in Yirmiyahu 26, cited below.  It seems that the prophecy itself is found in chap.  7, and that what is stated in chap.  26 is merely a synopsis, for the concern of chap.  26 is not the prophecy itself, but what happened in its wake: the attempt to kill Yirmiyahu and his rescue. 

[8] Yirmiyahu was the most prominent prophet during the days of Yehoyakim and Tzidkiyahu, and the stories that accompany his prophecies about his struggles with the king, the officers, the courtiers, the false prophets, and the wicked priests who fawned before the wicked of the generation have much to teach us about the spiritual state in Yehuda at the end of the First Temple period.

[9] Additional testimony to Yehoyakim's attitude toward the words of the prophets and to his scheming against them is found in Yirmiyahu 36.

[10] The strength of this feeling is evident from the fact that it appears to have penetrated down to the nations of the world, as is attested to by Eikha 4:12: "The kings of the earth and all the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem."

It is possible that the absolute trust in the eternity of the Temple is based, among other things, on the prophecy of Yeshayahu during the siege of Sancheriv, "For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake" (Yeshayahu 37:35), which stands in stark contrast to the prophecies of Yirmiyahu in chapters 7, 19, and 26 concerning the destruction of the city and the Temple, as well as to his demand that they submit to Bavel, which in and of itself constitutes a significant retreat in comparison to the period of Chizkiyahu both from the national perspective and from the theological perspective.  This, however, is not the forum in which to expand upon this idea.