Ethical Issues in the Historical Books of Tanach;
JOSHUA, JUDGES, SAMUEL, KINGS (Nevi’im Rishonim)
These four books ostensibly are merely the history of Israel from the entry into the Promised Land until the destruction of the Temple and the temporary loss of independent statehood. In fact they are actually, in a specifically Jewish sense, the most deeply religious and spiritual books of the Bible. One does not have to be specifically Jewish to see or feel the religion and spirituality in the revelations of the prophetic writings or in the words of the Tehillim. They speak to all people, as evidenced by the fact that the Bible is still the world's bestseller and there are millions of non-Jews who regularly recite the Psalms. However, it is specifically and intrinsically Jewish to understand that G-d is revealed in the prosaic material, in the political, social and military events in the lives of ordinary men and women, kings and leaders that are described in the Nevim Rishonim. Here are described the ideology and religious thoughts in Judaism, while in Chronicles we have the purely historical.
The Glorious Renaissance - A Jewish King! - Part 4
The Middle East was in chaos as the major power, Assyria, was crumbling before the revolt of the Babylonians and Medes.
Pharaoh Necho, one of the few kings of Egypt whose personal name has come down to us, brought his army to try to assist Assyria and thereby reassert Egypt's former power in the region. In order to reach Carchemish on the Euphrates, Necho had to lead his army along the coastal plain of Eretz Yisrael till Hadera and Wadi Ara of today, then through the Jezreel Valley and on to Mesopotamia. Yoshiyahu took his own troops to head them off at Meggido, the western point of entry to that valley. There is evidence to show that Meggido had for centuries in the past served as a base for Egyptian troops and that also explains Necho's going there. Hearing of Yoshiyahu's move, Necho sent diplomats to dissuade him, saying that he was no threat to Judah; all he wished to do was to pass through to Carchemish. Furthermore, he claimed that G-d Himself had sent him and therefore it was futile for Yoshiyahu to try and prevent him. His reference to G-d has been taken by some simply to refer to his idol, while others have seen this as referring to Hashem. Such recognition of the One G-d by gentiles are common in the Tanach e.g. Cyrus saying that Hashem had commanded him to rebuild the Temple; similarly, early 20th century Englishmen were moved to Zionism by their belief in Hashem's Tanach.
Yoshiyahu refused to listen to Necho's diplomacy either because he did not believe that indeed he only wanted passage through Israel and was not using this as an excuse for conquest or because he thought that Hashem would protect him. Irrespective, the king of Judah hastened with his army to Meggido to head Necho off. Before the actual battle began, the Egyptian archers fired a volley of arrows - 300 of them, which pierced the Jewish king "like a porcupine". His servants hastened to carry their dying king on his chariot to Yerushalayim, but he died on the way. As he was dying, he whispered in Yirmiyahu's ear; "Hashem is righteous, I have disregarded His Word" (Eicha Rabba 1).
Parshat Bo which tells of Egypt's collapse at the 10 plagues, has as its haftara, the victory song that Yirmeyahu sung on the sub- sequent defeat of Pharaoh Necho by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish (Abarbanel on Yirmiyahu 46:10). Only two of our pious kings merited eulogies expressed in the Tanach: Israel's first king, Saul who was mourned by David when he fell on the Gilboa - "How are the mighty fallen?" (Shmuel Bet 1:17-27) and Yoshiyahu by Yirmiyahu when he died in battle at Meggido - "And he and all the singing men and women mourned him in their lamentations to this day and made them a chok in Israel (Divrei HaYamim Bet 35:25. Also Zechariya12:11). According to Josephus, Yirmiyahu wrote Lamentations as a dirge on Yoshiyahu's death; Chazal at least attribute the first of the kinot in Eicha to his death.
Yoshiyahu's death and defeat despite his saintliness and piety have been ascribed by our sources to two possible causes, both of which have great bearing on our own religious and spiritual behaviour.
"He did not consult the prophet Yirmiyahu"; rather trusting in his own interpretation of the promise, ' the sword shall not rise in your land' to mean that Israel would always be victorious. Often, religion leads us to smugness, to pride and to arrogance. Yeho'ash, notwithstanding his piety and good deeds in rededicating the Temple and purifying it from the Tum'a introduced by his father and his grandmother, nevertheless arrogantly allowed himself to be convinced that he was a deity. Hezkiyahu boastfully showed off with his treasures before the emissaries of Bavel; thereby leading Isaiah to prophesy that they would be the ones to destroy Yerushalayim and the Temple. The Admor of Kotsk explained the verse wherein Moshe reminded Israel, "Anochi, I stood between you and Hashem" (D'varim 5:5), to teach that the I, the ego, keeps a person from G-d.
The Aggada tells us that Yoshiyahu died because of the sins of his generation, who were not worthy of such a righteous king (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 17). Despite all their outward manifestations of piety and their public demonstrations of observance, many of the people in their private lives and behind that facade, were evil and continued their idolatry. Since the practice of Judaism entails many external acts, but without our ability to monitor the holiness or the purity of these mandatory religious acts, false- hoods may easily occur. The Torah writes, "A person shall not defraud his fellow" (Vayikra 25:17), l'amito - spelled with anAYIN; R' Menachem Mendel of Kotsk taught that a person should not defraud, l'amito with an ALEF, his own truth.
This is the 68th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”