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.
Renaissance - A Jewish King! Part 1 (Melachim Bet 21:1-23:30)
The syndrome of the pious king with an evil heir, followed by a righteous son is a recurring theme in the stories of the kings of Judea. Menashe who had repented from evil, was the son of Hezkiyahu the righteous. His son, Amon, was an evil and sinful king who fathered the tzadik Yoshiyahu. It is interesting to note that Amon's mother came from a town, Yotva, [the site of a present day moshav shitufi of that name] in the Galil, in the former territory of the exiled Ten Tribes. This is further evidence that not all of those tribes were exiled and that the kings of Judah, among them Menashe, kept close connections with the remnants, if not actually ruling over them. Yoshiyahu actually extended his kingdom to include the major areas of the Shomron and Galil in to present day Syria and Lebanon.
Coming after the 22 years of the reign of the reformed Menashe, his son Amon did not follow in the footsteps of his repentant father. Rather, "He walked in the path of his father, Menashe; that is, not following him in his teshuva but in all his previous evil" (Abarbanel, 21:21). In his short reign of two years, he did evil similar to Menashe's first 33 years, in which he had worshiped every form of idolatry imaginable, as well as committed bloodshed and social crimes. The Sages (Sanhedrin 104a) explained that despite his evil acts, it was out of respect for the saintly Yoshiyahu that Amon was not included amongst those kings who forfeited their share in the World to Come. Finally, the Am Ha'Aretz rebelled and assassinated the king in his palace and anointed Yoshiyahu in his stead, although he was only 8 years old, the second youngest of all the kings.
Avraham had dealt with the Am Ha'Aretz of Hevron who sat as city fathers in the gates, in order to have them witness and approve his purchase of Ma'arat HaMachpeila from Efron (Gen.22). In Eishet Chayil we read, "Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land" (Mishlei 31:23). In Israel in the days of the Tanach the phrase 'am ha'aretz' had none of its latter day connotations. They were neither people who were careless of the laws of purity as in Mishnaic times nor ignoramuses as in our own days. They were communal leaders, laymen who were actively engaged in every aspect on national life and influential in court circles. Their loyalty to the House of David was an important factor in maintaining the throne of Judah for that house, unlike the constant changes that characterized the Northern Kingdom of Israel through the generations.
Yoshiyahu set about strengthening the Temple buildings as these had weakened during the 200 years that had passed since Yeho'ash had repaired them. There are instructive similarities and differences between these two cases.
In both cases the funds were collected and administered by Levite treasurers and in both of them it was unnecessary to supervise the accounts rendered by the artisans, suppliers of raw materials or the laborers. All of them pursued their work "b'emuna", in faith; that is not merely honestly, but also with trust in Hashem.
Unlike, during the building of the Temple by Shlomo HaMelech, we do not read in either of these cases of foreign workers being used nor of a tax of labor imposed on Israel. The funding in Yoshiyahu's case came from the free will contributions of the people both of Judah and the remnants of the Northern Tribes in Israel.Yeho'ash, in contrast, first tried to finance the work from the annual ˝-shekel meant to pay for the communal sacrifices that had not been collected for years under his father and grandfather, and the monies meant for the sin offerings and asham etc. When that proved ineffective, he still relied on the Temple funds and placed a chest next to the mizbei'ach into which the people placed their gifts for the repair of the Temple. Yoshiyahu did not have to purify the Temple, nor remove idols and asheirot that his father and grandfather had placed there, as he did that in the two years previously. On the other hand, Yeho'ash did not remove the bamot at which the people continued to sacrifice despite the ban on such localized worship. Furthermore he had to clear the obstacles that the Queen Mother Atalya bat Achav had erected after she murdered the rest of her grandchildren, in order to make the people's pilgrimages to the Bet HaMikdash more difficult.
It is interesting that neither of the two kings thought it necessary, as an act of, 'zeh keili v'anveihu - He is my G-d and I will glorify Him', to embellish, gild or add to the beauty of the Bet HaMikdash as did Hezkiyahu in his day.
This is the 65th installment in Dr. Tamari’s series on “Tanach and its messages for our times”