FOOLISH FACEOFF 2Ki 14:1-22; 2Ch 25:5-16
CONTEXT: The word elef usually means 1,000. In war stories the term refers to a military unit most likely far fewer than 1,000, though the narrator could be exaggerating for effect. An empire like Assyria or Babylonia could field an army of thousands but in the days of the kings of Israel, 300 was probably a force that could be raised and armed, provisioned, and sent against a town or another army.
Having no more than a reading acquaintance with armies, I went looking for a comprehensible set of military terms to use in these stories, I came across the following:
Squad /Section 9-10 soldiers
Platoon 16-44 soldiers
Company/Battery/Troop 62-190 soldiers
Battalion/Squadron 300-1000 soldiers
Brigade/Regiment/Group 3000-5000 soldiers
This is not to suggest a similarity between twentieth century US Army and forces raised in the eighth century BCE. Rather, I am thinking that an ancient narrator who spoke of an elef or multiples thereof, probably had in mind what a present day writer would call “battalion.”
2 Kings 14
Amatsyahu ben Yoash ben Achazyah, ben Y’horam and Ataliah, in the line of King David, began his reign in Jerusalem when Yoash ben Yoachaz ben Yehu, king of Israel, was in his second year. That was about 800 BCE. He was twenty-five when he became king and his mother was Y’hoadan of Jerusalem. He did right in the eyes of Yah, only not as much as his ancestor David. He behaved like his father, Yoash: he did not put away the bamot altars, so the people still brought offerings and incense there. When his hand grew strong enough he killed those courtiers who had assassinated his father. But he did not kill their children for it is written in the Book of the Torah of Moshe as commanded by Yah: “Fathers shall not be executed for their sons nor sons for their fathers. A man can be executed only for his own sin.”(Deuteronomy 24:16)
Insert 2 Chronicles 25:5-16
Amatsyahu assembled the nation, Y’hudah, by families, with battalion commanders and company commanders. From all Y’hudah and Binyamin, aged twenty and above, he found three hundred battalions fit to fight with spear and shield. He also hired from Ephraim in Yisrael a hundred battalions of seasoned warriors. He paid a hundred loaves of silver.
Then a man of the god came to warn him: “The King! Let not this Yisrael host join you, for Yah is not with them–all these B’nei Efrayim. For even if you go mighty to battle the god can make you stumble before the enemy. For there is power in the god to support or to make stumble.”
“And what’s to be done about the hundred loaves I gave for the Yisrael army?”
“Yah has it to give you much more than this.”
So Amatsyahu separated the army that had come from Ephraim. They were furious at Y’hudah when he sent them home. Anger burned in their noses as they returned.
Gathering his strength, Amatsyahu led his people towards the Valley of Salt and there struck down ten battalions of B’nei S’ir. The B’nei Y’hudah captured another ten battalions live, took them to a rocky cliff where they threw them off. They were all dashed to pieces.
Meanwhile, the army that Amatsyahu had released from accompanying him in battle raided the cities of Y’hudah, from Shomron to Beit Choron, killing three thousand and taking a lot of spoil.
After returning from striking the Edomim, Amatsyahu brought the b’neiSeir’s gods and set them up for himself as gods. He worshipped before than and made smoke. Yah was furious with him and sent a prophet: “Why have you sought of that people’s gods? They did not save them from your hand.”
“Have we appointed you royal counselor?” Amatsyahu interrupted. “Hold off if you don’t want to be killed.”
So the prophet held off but said, “I know God has counseled to destroy you for doing this and not obeying my counsel.”
Back to 2 Kings 14
Then, Amatsyahu of Y’hudah, sent messengers to Y’hoash of Yisrael: “Let’s faceoff! Eye to eye!” Y’hoash sent back: “The brier sends to the cedar of Lebanon saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son as woman?’ Along comes a beast of the field and tramples that briar! So you beat Edom and now you’re feeling high. Do yourself a favor. Stay home. Why stir up trouble and fall, you and Y’hudah along with you?”
Amatsyahu paid no attention. Y’hoash came up and they faced off at Bet Shemesh in Y’hudah, twenty miles by road west of Y’rushalayim. Y’hudah was beaten by Yisrael and every man, as they say, fled to his tent. Y’hoash captured Amatsyahu and then proceeded to Y’rushalayim. There he smashed down 400 amah -- 600 feet -- of the city wall, from the Efrayim Gate to the Corner Gate. He took all the gold and the silver and all the vessels found in the House of Yah and in the palace treasury. And he took hostages before returning to Shomron.
The rest of the deeds done by Y’hoash, his heroic acts, his fighting with Amatsyahu, king of Y’hudah, are to be found written in the scroll of chronicles of the kings of Yisrael. Y’hoash lay with his ancestors, buried in Shomron with the kings of Yisrael. Y’rov’am his son reigned in his place.
Amatsyahu benYoash, king of Y’hudah, lived fifteen years past the death of Y’hoash.
As for Amatsyahu, they conspired against him in Jerusalem so he fled to Lachish, 35 miles to the southwest. They sent after him to Lachish and killed him there. His body they brought back on the horses and buried in Y’rushalayin with his ancestors in the City of David.
Then the people of Y’hudah united to place the sixteen year old Azaryah on the throne in place of his father, Amatsyahu. Azaryah built Eilat and returned the area to Y’hudah.
© Rabbi David L. Kline http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/