II Chronicles 25 is about King Amaziah of Judah. The Chronicler says that Amaziah was a righteous king, but his heart was not perfect. Amaziah’s father, King Joash, had been killed, and Amaziah as king obeyed the Torah by executing the men who killed his father but not their sons, for the Torah says that children shall not die for the sins of their fathers, but each shall die for his own sins (Deuteronomy 24:16). Amaziah decides to go to war, and he hires men from Northern Israel to help him in this. A man of God comes and tells Amaziah not to enlist the help of the Northern Israelites, for God is not with them. Amaziah points out that he has already paid a hundred talents to the soldiers from Northern Israel, and the man of God responds that God is able to give Amaziah more than that. Amaziah sends away the Northern Israelites, who now are angry with Judah. Amaziah proceeds to kill Edomites and even to throw ten thousand of them over a cliff. The upset Northern Israelite soldiers return to the scene and capture Judahite cities, kill Judahites, and take a lot of spoil. Amaziah decides to worship Edomite gods, and a prophet tells Amaziah that this makes no sense, for the Edomite gods could not deliver Edom from Amaziah and Judah, so why would Amaziah worship them? The chapter then talks about a conflict between Amaziah and Northern Israel.
I have four items.
1. Why did Amaziah decide to go to war against Edom? The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary says that Amaziah did so because Israel being over Edom was an indication of Israel’s spiritual preeminence. Did not Isaac in Genesis 27 tell Jacob (the ancestor of Israel) that he would rule over Esau (the ancestor of Edom)? Was not Amaziah affirming God’s promises to Israel? Yes, but Jacob also said that Esau would break the yoke of Jacob from off his neck (v 40). God in Deuteronomy 2:4ff. instructed the Israelites to leave the Edomites and their land alone.
I cannot say that the Chronicler disapproves of Amaziah’s war, however, because the man of God does promise that Amaziah will succeed in this endeavor. Amaziah’s attack of Edom appears unprovoked in II Chronicles 25, but maybe it wasn’t. II Chronicles 20 presents a situation in which the Edomites were attacking Judah, notwithstanding God’s instructions to the Israelites years earlier not to take Edom’s land; the Edomites, there, were the ones attacking when unprovoked. Or perhaps the Chronicler actually thought that Judah was entitled to Edom, and that Edom only became independent because Judah disobeyed God. II Chronicles 21 appears to have this kind of story.
2. Amaziah throwing Edomites over a cliff appears very brutal. Some commentators seek to explain or to justify this action. The Artscroll says that Amaziah was resorting to brutality to keep the brutal and obscene nation of Edom in line: he was speaking to them in a language that they could understand, namely, brute force. The Artscroll also suggests that Amaziah may have been applying against the Edomites God’s command in Deuteronomy 25:17 to blot out the wicked nation of Amalek, for Josephus in Antiquities 9 alternates between Edom and Amalek. The Sages, however, considered Amaziah’s act to be cruel.
In reading this story, I thought that, if it is true, then it is no wonder that the Edomites were so cruel to the Judahites when the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem. The Edomites blocked the Judahites way of escape during this disaster (Obadiah 1:14). God condemns the Edomites for doing this, and Ezekiel 35:5 criticizes the Edomites for their perpetual wrath. Perhaps the Edomites should have forgiven and forgotten, but I can see why that may have been difficult for them.
3. Amaziah does what God wants by dismissing the Northern Israelite soldiers, and the man of God tells Amaziah that God can compensate Amaziah for this act of obedience on his part. While Amaziah indeed does defeat Edom and take spoil, not everything goes well for him. The Northern Israelites whom he dismissed return and attack Judah. This is puzzling, in light of the Chronicler’s view that doing the right thing leads to rewards. Raymond Dillard suggests that the Chronicler may have included this story to set the stage for Judah’s conflict with Northern Israel later in the chapter. Matthew Henry speculates that God allowed the Northern Israelites to afflict the Judahite cities because those particular cities were close to Northern Israel and thus were influenced by Northern Israelite idolatry. Henry, like the Chronicler, may have found it odd that Amaziah was suffering for doing the right thing, so he proposed that some sin on the part of the Judahite cities brought about their affliction.
A lesson that I can glean could be that things do not always go well when we do the right thing, for the world is full of covetous, resentful people. But God is with us through it all, working good, and hopefully our story will have a happy ending.
4. Amaziah decided to worship the gods of Edom, the nation that he just defeated. Why would he do that? The Artscroll says that Amaziah feared that the Edomite gods would take revenge against him on account of his atrocity against the Edomites, so he tried to placate them. John MacArthur, similarly, says that Amaziah could have been seeking to prevent an Edomite threat in the future. The commentator on I-II Chronicles in the HarperCollins Study Bible, however, says that Amaziah believed that the Edomite gods assisted him in defeating Edom. That sort of view was common in that day. The Babylonian captain of the guard, Nebuzaradan, for example, attributed Babylon’s success against Jerusalem to the God of Israel’s anger at Judah’s sins (Jeremiah 40).
For some reason, though, this possibility did not enter the Chronicler’s mind, for the Chronicler presents a prophet who thinks it absurd that Amaziah would worship Edomite gods, after defeating Edom. Perhaps the lesson that I can glean from all this is that I should worship God and trust in God rather than being afraid of what might happen.