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 First Tish'a b'Av
Melachim Bet 25
Nevuchadnetzar came to Yerushalayim as a reaction to the revolt of Tzidkiyahu. It is difficult to understand this revolt and what made the king do it. After all, he knew that Nevuchadnetzar was the most powerful king in the Middle East and neither Egypt nor Assyria could be serious allies. His own country had been impoverished by taxes levied on it in the previous king's reign, together with the exile to Bavel of the ruling class of the country, its intellectual and spiritual leadership and most of its skilled artisans.
There was no logical or
reasonable political, military or economic justification for the revolt
against Bavel. Shall we ascribe the revolt to royal stupidity, political
miscalculation or egoism? Similar reasons have often, in world history, led
to political and military phenomena. Our sources, however, attribute
spiritual and religious reasons for this revolt, as they do for all events
and acts. "For through the anger of the Lord it came to pass in Yerushalayim
and Yehuda until He cast them out from His Presence, that Tzidkiyahu
rebelled against the king of Babylon (Melachim Bet 24:20). Hashem put in his
heart to rebel so that thereby His punishment of the exile could be
fulfilled (Rashi). Hashem caused his heart to lead him to revolt, so that
the king of Bavel should have an excuse to destroy everything (Radak)".
In accordance with this text we get a more complicated and involved summary of his wrong doing. From the prophet Yechezkel's words we see that his sin lay in not keeping his oath to the Babylonian king (Yechezkel 17:15-16). Since he had taken the oath in G-d's Name, the non-observance became a Chilul Hashem, and therefore Hashem was no longer bound by His promise to protect Israel. We remember that because of the enormity of this sin of Chilul Hashem that would result from not keeping their vow, Israel had kept their word to the Giv'onites even though it had been obtained through Giv'onite fraud (Yehoshua 9:18-19). Halakhically, non-fulfillment of promises in the market-place is considered to be a lack of faith in G-d. In the Talmud there are conflicting opinions of Tzidkiyahu: "He was perfect in his actions" (Horiyot 11b; Rashi "He was a Tzadik)." Whereas we read elsewhere that, "He did only one mitzva; that of releasing Yirmiyahu from prison" (Moed Katan 28b).Josephus Flavius considered the king to be noble and aristocratic, not given to anger; yet he gave rein to the people to do evil as they wished.
Be that as it may, in the 9th year of Tzidkiyahu's reign, Nevuchadnetzar laid siege to Yerushalayim; this was on Asara B'Tevet. The siege took a whole year with a short break when Pharaoh, as Israel's ally, tried unsuccessfully to attack Babylonian forces. Finally, on the 17th of Tammuz the Babylonians breached the walls and entered Yerushalayim. Tzidkiyahu fled in the night with his senior officers, towards the Arava to try to reach Trans-Jordan where many Jews had taken refuge during the first exile 11 years earlier. However, the Chaldean- Bavli troops caught him in the plain of Jericho, north of Yam HaMelach, and took him prisoner to the Babylonian king who had set up his command post in Rivlat in Southern Syria. There, before the king and his nobles, Tzidkiyahu was tried, found guilty and sentenced for not keeping his oath of loyalty. They slew his sons in front of him, blinded him and then Nevuchadnetzar took him in chains of brass down to Babylon.
Yirmiyahu's whole book of prophecy was one of warning and foretelling this end result of Israel's sinning. Indeed, his very name has become synonymous in the English language with the bearer of messages of doom and destruction. Despite his words, the people and their king seemed bent on their own destruction. They built alliances and coalitions with a ruined Egypt and a defeated Assyria to revolt against Babylon; even imprisoning Yirmiyahu in Yerushalayim for treachery, when he dared to point out the futility of their trying to reverse G-d's plan for a victorious Babylon.
They could not imagine that Hashem would destroy His own House and so relied blindly on the building to save them even though they had for years denuded it of any sanctity. They had turned what was supposed to become a House for G-d, one that they would fill with sanctity and holiness so that it would be filled with His Divine Presence, into a mere House of G-d, an edifice that technically went through ritualistic procedures. They arrogantly believed that the mere ritual of sacrifices and their prescribed appearances within its walls could outweigh their immorality and idolatry. After all, were they not G-d's Chosen People? Was that not their insurance against punishment and exile?
Despite the people's false belief in protection because of their Temple, its destruction loomed. A mere three weeks after Nevuchadnetzar had breached the walls of Yerushalayim, on the 7th of Av, the general Nevuzaradan, described in our text as The Butcher, acting for Nevuchadnetzar, started to destroy the Temple Mount. On Tish'a b'Av, the Temple was destroyed by fire which continued into the following day. In these three weeks, now marked as our 3 weeks of mourning, ein hameitzarim, we lost our national independence, our capital and our Bet Mikdash.
This is the 70th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”