2 Chronicles 14 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

2 Chronicles 14
Pulpit Commentary
So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David: and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days the land was quiet ten years.
Verse 1. - Buried... in the city of David (see our note, 2 Chronicles 12:16). Asa his son. If, according to the suggestion of our note, 2 Chronicles 10:8 and 2 Chron 12:13, the alleged forty-one years of the age of Rehoboam be made twenty-one, it will follow that Asa could not now be more than a boy of some twelve years of age. It is against that suggestion that there is no sign of this, by word or deed, in what is here said of the beginning of Asa's reign; the signs are to the contrary, especially taking into the question the indications given us respecting the tendencies, if not contradicted, of the queen-mother Maachah (2 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Kings 15:13), and it is not supposable that a boy of twelve years of age could contradict them. This point must be held still moot. In his days... quiet ten years. No doubt one cause of this was the defeat that Jeroboam and Israel had sustained at the hands of Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:18-20). It appears also, from 1 Kings 15:19, that after that defeat a league was instituted between Abijah and the then King of Syria: "There is a league between me and thee, and between my father and thy father." And these things, with Israel's new kings, and perhaps Asa's extreme youth, would have favoured the repose of the land.
And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God:
Verse 2. - That which was good and right. Our Authorized Version does not omit to mark the first three words with italic type, the simple and emphatic original being, the good and the straight.
For he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves:
Verse 3. - The altars of the strange (gods); Hebrew, the altars of the stranger, meaning, of course, "the altars of the gods of the stranger." This expression, "strange gods," is found in the Authorized Version about thirteen times for the Hebrew גֵכָר, or הַגֵּכָר, and would be most correctly rendered, "The gods [or, 'god'] of the stranger," i.e. of the foreigner, as it is rendered in the solitary instance of Deuteronomy 31:16. The high places. Comp. ver. 5 and 2 Chronicles 15:17, which says, "But the high places were not taken away out of Israel;" and 1 Kings 15:14, which says, "But the high places were not removed," without limiting this non-removal to "of Israel." On the question of this apparent inconsistency and surface-contradiction, see our Introduction, §7, pp. 16:1 and 17:2. Further, it may here be well distinctly to note how little is even the apparent discrepancy or contradiction alleged in this subject, throwing in the analogous passages in Jehoshaphat's history (2 Chronicles 17:6; 2 Chronicles 20:33), in case these may reflect any light on the question. Firstly, we will remove out of our way the parallel in 1 Kings 15:14, with the observation that it is evident from its immediate context that it corresponds with the last statement of our Chronicles (2 Chronicles 15:17), savouring of a retrospective summarizing of the compiler, not with the first statements (2 Chronicles 14:3, 5), which set forth Asa's prospective purpose of heart, his resolution, and, no doubt, his edicts. Secondly, we may notice that there is a plain-enough distinction made by the writer in vers. 3 and 5 respectively - the one saying that Asa "took away the high places," without any further limitation; the other saying within two verses, "Also out of all the cities of Judah" (note by the way here the suggestive stress laid upon "the cities," possibly as more easily coped with than country districts) "he took away the high places." The only legitimate inference (taking into account both the words used, and the fact that the last written are found close upon the former, with the significant conjunction "also") must be that some different information was intended in the two places. Ver. 3 finds Asa as much master of "Judah" as ver. 5. Therefore the natural interpretation of ver. 3 must be that Asa at once abolished "the high places" nearest home, nearest Jerusalem, most within his own personal reach; then "also" that he did and ordered the same to be done in "all the cities of Judah," and it was done at the time, if only for the time. Thirdly, include the statement of 2 Chronicles 15:17, if we do not insist (as we might insist very fairly when pressed on a point of alleged inconsistency or contradiction) on the fact that now the high places "of Israel" arc distinctly designated, and that therein those outlying parts of Asa's more or less acknowledged sway outside of Judah and his thoroughest control are designedly described, let us instead take the help of an exactly analogous (and analogously alleged) discrepancy (2 Chronicles 17:7 compared with 2 Chronicles 20:33), and we find there that the very key with which to unlock the difficulty is provided to our hand. Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:6) "took away the high places;" "the people" (2 Chronicles 20:33) did not faithfully and with a constant heart follow suit, but had failed to prepare, i.e. to turn "their hearts unto the God of their fathers." How well the juxtaposition of these very words would tell, nay, do tell, with the emphatic words of 1 Kings 15:14! "Nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord all his days;" and with our 2 Chronicles 15:17, "Nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days." In both these passages the antithesis is patent between Asa's heart and the people's hearts, between Asa's "all his days" and the people's uncertainty and apostasy. The fidelity of Bible history and its non-cunningly, non-fabulously devised tenor are gratefully corroborated by the inquisition made into such a supposed "discrepancy," inconsistency," "contradiction." Notice once more the confirming indication, so far as it goes, of the one verb that commands the next verse, as there noted upon. Brake down the images; Hebrew, מַצֵּבות. It occurs in the Authorized Version thirty-two times, and is rendered "pillar" or "pillars" twelve times; "image" or "images" nineteen times; and "garrisons" once. It appears simply to have slipped from the signification of pillar into the rendering of the word "image," by aid of the intermediate word "statue." It is used of the pillar or statue of Baal in 2 Kings 3:2; 2 Kings 10:26, 27, with his name expressed; and in 2 Chronicles 18:4; 2 Chronicles 23:14, without that name expressed. Cut down the groves; Hebrew, וַיְגַדַּע אֶת־הָאֲשֵׁרִים. The verb here used implies the "cutting," "cutting down," "pruning" of trees. It is undoubtedly applied also to other cutting and cutting down, as of the "breaking" of a red (Zechariah 11:10), of an arm (1 Samuel 2:31), of horns (Jeremiah 48:25), of bars or bolts (Isaiah 45:2). It occurs in all twenty-three times. It is here employed to describe the destroying of what according to the Authorized Version arc called "groves" (Septuagint, ἄλσος; Vulgate, lucus) - a word which with little doubt misleads for the rendering of our אֲשֵׁרִים. Before this same word we have also another Hebrew verb for "cutting," of very frequent occurrence in its simple and metaphorically derived uses included, viz. כָּרַת. The first uses of this verb with the above word are found in Judges 6:25, 26, 30. That word means literally "fortune," but in its ultimate derivation "straightness," and hence supposed to designate, in Phoenician and Aramaean idolatry, Astarte or the planet Venus, who is constantly associated in such idolatry with Baal (Judges 3:7). But see for the first occurrence of the word, Exodus 34:13, where there is no express mention of Baal, but where the idolatries of the Amorite, Canaanite, Hittite, Hivite, Perizzite, and Jebusite are being spoken cf. When we take into consideration the probable ultimate derivation of the word, the fact of the verbs that speak of "cutting" being uniformly applied to what it represents, the "burning" to which this was condemned (Judges 6:26) when cut down, and a series of statements that represent it as "set up under every green tree" (1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 17:10; see also 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 21:7; 2 Kings 23:6; 2 Chronicles 15:16), it not only becomes perfectly certain that "grove" and "groves" cannot rightly render the word, but directs us with the light of those passages that speak of it coupled with Baal as an object of worship, and that speak of prophet and priest called by its name (Judges 3:7 (compared with Judges 2:13; 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4); 1 Kings 18:19; 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Kings 23:4), to the strong conviction that it should be at once written with a capital letter, and rendered as a proper name; that it may possibly be a synonym with Ashtoreth, 1.q. Astarte, or a representation in wooden pillar, stock or trunk fashion, of some supposed aspect of her passion or dominion, very likely in the voluptuous or sensual direction (see the nevertheless very doubtful Septuagint and Vulgate, 2 Chronicles 15:16; and Vulgate, Judges 3:7). Conder, in 'Handbook to the Bible,' p. 187, 2nd edit., speaks of "Baal-peor (Numbers 25:3) as identified by St. Jerome with the classical Priapus;" and adds "the Asherah (rendered 'grove' in our version) was also apparently a similar emblem" (2 Kings 23:7). The analogy of the sacred tree of the Assyrians sculptured on the monuments of Nineveh ('Nineveh and Persepolis,' p. 299, Fergusson), which was probably a straight trunk or stock garlanded at certain times with ribbons and flowers, has been opportunely pointed to (see also Professor Dr. Murphy's 'Handbook: Chronicles,' p. 115).
And commanded Judah to seek the LORD God of their fathers, and to do the law and the commandment.
Verse 4. - And commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers. What an indication lies couched in this word "commanded" (confirmatory of the spirit of what is said above, in our previous verse-note) of the moral efforts of Asa, and that the efforts on which he may have largely relied for "taking away the high places" were moral efforts, rather than those of physical force.
Also he took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the images: and the kingdom was quiet before him.
Verse 5. - The images; Hebrew, חַמָּנֹים. The images spoken of here are, of coarse, not the same with those (noted upon already) of ver. 3. The present khammanim are mentioned seven times beside, viz. Leviticus 26:30; 2 Chronicles 34:4, 7; Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 27:9; Ezekiel 6:4, 6. Gesenius says Khamman is an epithet of Baal as bearing rule over the sun (חַמָה, "heat," or "the sun"), in the oft-found compound expression, בַֹּעַל חַמָּן; he thinks the plural (חַמָּנִים), invariably found in the Old Testament, is short for בְּעָלִים חַמָּנִים. He does not agree with the translation of Haenaker ('Miscell. Phoen.,' p. 50), "sun-image" by aid of the word פֶסֶל understood, images said to have been of a pyramid form, and placed in the most sacred positions of Baal-temples. This, however, is the rendering adopted by not a few modern commentators (so 2 Chronicles 34:4). Gesenius would render "the Sun-Bard," or "the Sun-Lord," i.e. statues of the sun, representing a deity to whom (see ' Phoen. Inseript.') votive stones,were inscribed. In his 'Thesaurus' (p. 489) Gesenius instances the Phoenician inscriptions, as showing that our chemmanim denoted statues of both Baal, the sun-god, and Astarte, the moon-goddess.
And he built fenced cities in Judah: for the land had rest, and he had no war in those years; because the LORD had given him rest.
Verse 6. - He built fenced cities in Judah. Though it is not said so here, it is very probable that Asa did again the work of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:5-12) which Shishak had done so much to undo (2 Chronicles 12:4, 5, 8).
Therefore he said unto Judah, Let us build these cities, and make about them walls, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us; because we have sought the LORD our God, we have sought him, and he hath given us rest on every side. So they built and prospered.
Verse 7. - We have sought him, and he hath given us rest. In three successive verses the blessings of peace and quiet, and no war and rest, are recorded (Isaiah 26:1; Zechariah 2:5).
And Asa had an army of men that bare targets and spears, out of Judah three hundred thousand; and out of Benjamin, that bare shields and drew bows, two hundred and fourscore thousand: all these were mighty men of valour.
Verse 8. - The "ten years' quiet" (ver. 1) begins to see its end. Targets (2 Chronicles 9:15); spears (2 Chronicles 11:12); for both, see 1 Chronicles 12:24. Out of Benjamin... shields and... bows. The minuter coincidences of the history are very observable and very interesting; for see 1 Chronicles 8:40; 1 Chronicles 12:2; and much earlier, Genesis 49:27; Judges 20:16, 17.
And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and came unto Mareshah.
Verses 9-15. - The remaining seven verses of this chapter are occupied with the account of the invasion of Zerah the Ethiopian, and the successful defence and reprisals of Asa. Verse 9. - Zerah the Ethiopian; Hebrew, זֶרַח הַכּוּשִׁי, the "Ethiopian," Greek and Septuagint rendering for "Cushite." In its vaguest dimensions Ethiopia, or Cush, designated Africa south of Egypt, but more concisely it meant the lands we now call Nubia, Sennaar, Kordefan, and part of Abyssinia. And these, roughly speaking, were bounded north, south, east, and west respectively by Egypt and Syene, Abyssinia, Red Sea, and Libyan Desert. When, however, Ethiopia proper is spoken of, the name probably designates the kingdom of Meroe (Seba, Genesis 10:7; 1 Chronicles 1:9); and the Assyrian inscriptions make the Cushite name of the deified Nimrod one with Meroe), which was so closely associated at different times with Egypt, that sometimes an Egypt king swayed it (as e.g. some eighteen hundred years before Shishak, Sesostris fourth king of the twelfth dynasty), and sometimes vice versa (as e.g. the three Ethiopian kings of the twenty-fifth dynasty - Shabak (Sabakhou), Sethos (Sebechos), and Tarkos (Tirhakah), whose reigning dates as between Ethiopia and Egypt are not yet certified). The name thus confined covers an irregular circular bulk of country between "the modern Khartoum, where the Astapus joins the true Nile, and the influx of the Astaboras, into their united stream." From the language of Diodorus (1:23), harmonized conjecturally with Strabo (18:821), the region may be counted as 375 miles in circumference and 125 miles in the diameter of the erratic circle, its extreme south point being variously stated, distant from Syene, 873 miles (Pliny, 6:29. § 33); or, according to Mannert's book ('Geogr. d. Alt.,' 10:183), 600 miles by the assertion of Artemidorns, or 625 by that of Eratosthenes. Thence the "Cushite" extended probably to the Euphrates and the Tigris, and through Arabia, Babylonia, and Persia. Some, however, think that the Cushite now intended was the Ethiopian of Arabia, who had settlement near Gerar (Dr. Jamieson, in 'Comm.') as a nomadic horde. Dr. Jamieson quotes Bruce's 'Travels' to support this view, which seems a most improbable, not to say impossible, one nevertheless. The question as to the people intended will perhaps best be found in the solution of the question for whom the name of their king stands (see following note). Zerah. Hebrew as above. It is noteworthy that the four previous occurrences of this name - Genesis 36:13 and 1 Chronicles 1:37, son of Reuel, grandson of Esau; Genesis 38:30 and 1 Chronicles 2:6, son of Judah and Tumor; 1 Chronicles 4:24, son of Simeon; 1 Chronicles 5:6, 26, Hebrew text, son of Iddo, a Gershonite Levite - show it as the name of an Israelite, or descendant of Shem. Our present Zerah is a Cushite, or descendant of Ham. The Septuagint forms of the name are Ζαρέ Ζαρά Ζαρές, or Ζαραέ Ζααραι, or (Alexandrian) Ἀκαρίας. Although Professor Dr. Murphy says ('Handbook: Chronicles,' p. 116) that "it is plain that Zerah was a sovereign of Kush, who in the reign of Takeloth, about B.C. 944, invaded Egypt and penetrated into Asia," the balance of probability, both from the names themselves and the synchronisms of history, corroborated by the composition of Zerah's army (Cushim and Lubim, 2 Chronicles 16:8) and some other tributary considerations, is that our Zerah was Usarken II., the fourth king of the twenty-second dynasty (or possibly Usarken I., the second king of the dynasty). The invasion of the text was probably in Asa's fourteenth year, his reign thus far being dated B.C. 953-940 (or B.C. 933-920 if Manasseh's be taken at only thirty-five instead of fifty-five years). The alleged army of this Zerah was an Egyptian army, largely made of mercenaries (compare the description of Shishak's army, ch. 12:3). The present defeat of Zerah would go far to explain the known decline of the Egyptian power at just this date, i.e. some twenty-five to thirty years after Shishak. At the same time, it must be admitted that it is not possible to identify with certainty Zerah with either Usarken. Whether he is an unknown Arabian Cushite, or an unknown African Cushite of Ethiopia-above-Egypt, or one of the Usarkens, has yet to be pronounced. Mareshah (see our note, 2 Chronicles 11:8). It lay the "second mile" (Eusebius and Jerome) south of Eleutheropolis and between Hebron (1 Maccabees 5:36; 2 Maccabees 12:35) and Ashdod (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 12:08. § 6). The mention of the valley of Zephathah in the following verse will half identify its exact position. It is probable that Dr. Robinson ('Bibl. Res.,' 2:67) and Toblev in his interesting , Dritto Wand.' (pp. 129, 142), have reliably fixed the site one Roman mile south-west of the modern Beit-Jibrin. Mareshah is again mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:37 and Micah 1:15, as quoted already, in references interesting to be consulted. A thousand thousand. Whether this number be correct or not, it may be noted that it is the largest alleged number of an army given in the Old Testament.
Then Asa went out against him, and they set the battle in array in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah.
Verse 10. - The valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. "At" some translate "belonging to," some more suitably to the exact connection "near." The Hebrew here for" valley" is גֵיא. It can scarcely designate necessarily a "ravine." It is a valley in the sense of being a low, fiat region, in which springs of water "broke out." From Numbers 21:20, the first occasion of its occurrence, to Zechariah 14:5 it is found fifty-six times, and is always rendered (Authorized Version) "valley;" it is the word used in the celebrated passages, "Though I walk through the valley" etc. (Psalm 23:4); and "Every valley shall be exalted" (Isaiah 40:4). The Septuagint, however, do not render it uniformly; but though they render it generally φάραξ, they also have ναπή κοίλας αὐλών, and in some cases the simple word γῆ, as e.g. ἐν γῇ (γε) Ἑννόμ, (2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6), which, nevertheless, elsewhere they describe as φάραξ Ἑννόμ (Joshua 15:8). The full explanation may probably be that the word is used for the valley that narrowed up to a ravine-like pass, or gorge, or that opened out into one of the wide wadies of the country; but see Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' Appendix, pp. 482, 483, new edit., 1866. It is supposed that Zephathah is not mentioned elsewhere, but see the Zephath of Judges 1:17; and comp. Numbers 21:3: 1 Samuel 30:30, which Keil and Bertheau think conclusively to be not the same.
And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.
Verse 11. - Nothing with thee; Hebrew, אֵין־עִמְּך. In the passage of very similar tenor (1 Samuel 14:6) the exact rendering is more easily fixed, "It is nothing to the Lord," i.e. it makes no difference to the Lord, "to save by many or by few." Probably the correcter rendering of our present Hebrew text would be, "It makes no difference with thee to help those whose strength is great or whose strength is nothing (between the much even to the none of strength)." Keil and Bertheau would translate "There is none beside thee." For another instance of the preposition גֵּין followed by ל, see Genesis 1:6; and comp. 2 Chronicles 1:13. The prayer must be counted a model prayer to an omnipotent Deliverer. It consists of opening invocation and the instancing of what postulates the crowning Divine attribute as the broad foundation for argument; of invocation repeated, warmed to closer clinging by the appropriating "oar;" attended by the defining, though very universal petition, Help us; and followed by the argument of the unbending fidelity of trusting dependence, For we rest on thee, and in thy Name we go against this multitude; and, lastly, of invocation renewed or still determinedly sustained, pressed home by the clenching challenge of relationship and its correlative responsibility and presumable holy pride. The antithesis marked in these two last clauses will not escape notice - one made all the bolder, with the marginal reading of "mortal mall" for the emphatic (a poetical, universal kind of) word here employed (ךאגושׁ) for man.
So the LORD smote the Ethiopians before Asa, and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled.
Verse 12. - So the Lord smote the Ethiopians. As little as the real work was of the army of Asa, so little is said of even the mere human method by which this great victory was obtained for Asa and Judah. Again and yet again, in the following two verses, the glory is given to "the Lord."
And Asa and the people that were with him pursued them unto Gerar: and the Ethiopians were overthrown, that they could not recover themselves; for they were destroyed before the LORD, and before his host; and they carried away very much spoil.
Verse 13. - And the Ethiopians... before his host. It is evident that these words, with the clauses they include, should be placed in brackets, and so leave "they," the subject of the verb "carried" in the last clause, to refer to its proper noun-subject, Asa and the people. Gerar. This place is mentioned as defining a full distant spot as the limit of the pursuit of the flying army. While it was nearly four hours south of Gaza, on the road to Egypt, it is calculated that it was more than twenty miles distant from Mareshah.
And they smote all the cities round about Gerar; for the fear of the LORD came upon them: and they spoiled all the cities; for there was exceeding much spoil in them.
Verse 14. - The fear of the Lord came upon them; i.e. on the cities round about Gerar. This and the following verse illustrate in particular the very graphic character which attaches to the entire stretch of the description of the scene, introduced so suddenly in ver. 9 and closing with ver. 15. Much spoil. The Hebrew word here used for "spoil" (בִּזָּה) is found only in Chronicles, Ezra, Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel, and once in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 29:19).
They smote also the tents of cattle, and carried away sheep and camels in abundance, and returned to Jerusalem.
Verse 15. - The tents of cattle. This word "tents" (אָהֲלֵי, construct state) is used just 325 times, and this is the only time it is spoken of as the place of cattle; there are, however, four passages looking the same way (Genesis 13:5; Judges 6:5; 2 Kings 7:7; Jeremiah 49:29). It is the word used for the tabernacle of the wilderness many times, and many times for the place of abode that has highest associations (Psalm 15:1; Psalm 118:15), and of the usual abodes of people (2 Chronicles 10:16). The use of the word here, though unique, will occasion no surprise, considering the camping of the vast invading army. Camels in abundance. The mention of this spoil reminds us both where we are, on desert border (1 Samuel 27:7-10; 1 Samuel 30:16, 17), and what was the personality or nationality within some latitude of choice of the invaders. Returned to Jerusalem. The expression awakens inevitably, though inaptly, a reminiscence of Scripture language in strangest contrast - the climax in a description also, but of a victory infinitely vaster and grander and for ever (Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12). This return of "Asa and the people that were with him" to Jerusalem dated the commencement of a period of comparative internal peace and reform for the kingdom of Judah, that lasted twenty-one years, and yet more of exemption from Egyptian attack, that lasted about three hundred and thirty years (B.C. circ. 940-609). It was a doubtful benefit, but Judah and Egypt came to be found in alliance against Assyria (2 Kings 17:3-6; 2 Kings 18:20, 21, 24; Isaiah 30:2; Hosea 7:11). The 'Speaker's Commentary' points out the interesting fact that this was one of the only two occasions known of the Jews meeting in open field either Egypt or Assyria (the other occasion being the unfortunate one of Josiah against Necho, 2 Chronicles 35:30), and adds, "Shishak, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, and Ptolemy I., were either unopposed or only opposed from behind wails."

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