27 August 2010

Judah's Kings and Mama's Boys

I owe everything to Mom.

I can say that. Lots of men say that. Abraham Lincoln said it best: "All that I am or could ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."

Like most men, I'm prone to credit my successes to Mom--"Hi Mom!"--and blame my limitations on my dad. But as I spent weeks poring over the Old Testament history of the First Temple, the blame for periods of idolatry and temple desecration just didn't seem to fit the blame-it-on-papa scenario.

The history of first-temple Judah lurches from periods of religious revival to gross idolatry, and there seems to be no explanation. For example, how can Judah go from the reign of Jehosophat, the hymn-singing warrior king, to idolatrous Jehoram? What can explain Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, who brought male prostitutes into the Temple and sacrificed his own son in the fire?

On the other hand, Abijah, the son of the committed pagan, Rehoboam, taunted his foes with the words, "God is with us; he is our leader. His priests with their trumpets will sound the battle cry against you" (2Ch 13.12). The grandson of Manasseh was Josiah, whose dedication to reform and the Temple outstripped even his ancestor David (2Ch 35.18). There seems to be no explanation, but there is.

I didn't figure it out till my 3rd time through 2nd Chronicles. I was checking my facts, looking for details, when I read, "Rehoboam appointed Abijah son of Maacah to be the chief prince among his brothers, in order to make him king" (2Ch 11.22). It suddenly dawned on me: almost every king's mother was listed.

In the stories of the royal mothers was a hidden history of Judah: a list of scandal, heroism and hedonism that brought the theological twists and turns of this short-lived nation into light. Things finally made sense. It wasn't hard at all to realize why Rehoboam could be evil and his son godly.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "The Mom's the thing to prick the conscience of the King."

Throughout the 377-year history of Judah, a good rule of thumb went like this: if the mother was foreign, the king would worship idols; if the mother was Jewish (Levite in particular), then the king would lead revival.

Let's set this up with a table.


King’s Mother

Mother’s Family

Solomon (m)


Eliam the Gilonite (2S 11.3), a city in Judah

Rehoboam (p)


Ammonite (1K 14.21)

Abijah (g)


Absolom (son of David) (1K 15.2). Later she was deposed by Asa for building an Ahserah pole (2Ch 15.16)

Asa (g)

One of Abijah’s 14 wives

Jehosophat (g)


d.o. Shilhi (2Ch 20.31) Shilhim a town in the south of Judah

Jehoram (p)

Of the House of Ahab (2Ch 18.1)

Ahaziah (p)


Ahab and Jezebel (2K 8.26)



d.o. Jehoram, wife of Jehoida, priest (2Ch 20.11)

Amaziah (m)


Of Jerusalem (sounds like Jehoaddin) (2Ch 25.1)

Azariah (g)


Of Jerusalem (2Ch 26.3)

Jotham (g)


d.o. Zadok (priestly name) (2Ch 27.1)

Ahaz (p)

Hezekiah (g)


d.o. Zechariah, the priest murdered by Joash (2Ch 29.1)

Manasseh (p)


“my delight is in her” (2K 21.1)

Amon (p)


d.o. Haruz from Jothbah (2K 21.19) Jotbah is a desert place through which the Israelites wandered. Was she Bedouin?

Josiah (g)


d.o. Adaniah from Bozkath, a town in Judah (2K 22.1)

Jehoahaz (p)


d.o. Jeremiah from Zibnah, a town in Judah, one of the first conquered by Joshua (2K 23.31)

Jehoiakim (p)


d.o. Pedaich from Rumah, a town near Shechem (2K 23.36)

Jehoiachin (p)


d.o Elnathan from Jerusalem (2K 24.8). Elnathan plays several roles in Jeremiah: traveling to Egypt to persecute the prophet, Uriah (Je 12.22-23), and begging Jehoiakim not to burn Baruch’s scroll (Je 36.24-26)

Zedekiah (p)


d.o. Jeremiah from Zibnah (see above)

I don't have time--or a looming Ph.D.--to grant justice to all the women mentioned here, but I want to highlight a few stories that bring focus to Judah's mercurial devotion to Yahweh.

Solomon. There is much mentioned about Bathsheba throughout the Bible (including the New Testament). She was originally married to a foreign, Hittite man, Uriah. She was at the center of the Bible's most salacious sex scandal. She was a skilled political player, guiding her son through three claimants to David's throne. All of these would be mirrored in the long, successful career of her son, Solomon. He came by his love of foreigners honestly. His father had no foreign wives, Solomon had hundreds--and he honored the gods of each wife. Solomon left a mixed legacy as a religious leader, ultimately crippled by a voluminous appetite for sex/marriage/heterodoxy, yet he was never cowed by politics.

Rehoboam. His mother is nameless--as are all of Solomon's other 700 wives, including the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt (the only one mentioned specifically). All that we know of Rehoboam's mother is that she was an Ammonite princess, whose idol Solomon erected and no doubt worshiped at least once. Rehoboam's rule would be the first descent into paganism. The glorious Temple left by his father would be looted in year five of his rule.

Abijah. How could Abijah have restored the kingdom to the God Party with a father like Rehoboam? His mother was Jewish, that may explain it. She was Macaah, the cousin of Rehoboam, the daughter of Solomon's first rival, Absolom. Her Jewish heritage may explain the kingdom's dramatic return to the God Party, but I should note that she was later punished by her grandson, Asa, for erecting an Asherah pole in Jerusalem. Alas.

Jehoram. Throughout the reigns of Asa and Jehosophat, the God Party dominated the court, but Jehoram's reign saw widespread idolatry. The answer lies north of the border. Under King Omri, Israel had leaped ahead economically. Jehosophat--the hymn-singer, lover of God--married into this dominant Israelite family. The mother of Jehoram isn't mentioned, but the Chronicler shows that she was probably a sister of King Ahab (2Ch 18.1), hence the turn to paganism.

Joash. The Pagan Party ruled through Jehoram and his son, Ahaziah, who married Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. After Ahaziah's death, Athaliah would become the only queen to sit on the Throne of David, serving six years. She went so far as to murder her grandchildren, but Joash survived. His aunt, Jehosheba, had married into the priestly class, and his uncle, Jehoida would train him, leading the revival that took place once this boy king had displaced his hated grandmother. No mention is made of Joash's mother.

I want to point out one scandal that marred the reign of Joash. Toward the end of his reign, the revival waned, paganism crept back into the court, and the Temple services weren't practiced. Zechariah (not related to the prophet), whose father, Jehoida, had been so instrumental in preserving Joash's life and putting him on the throne, prophesied against the king:

Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the LORD’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.’”

But they plotted against him, and by order of the king they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the LORD’s temple. King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, “May the LORD see this and call you to account.” (2Ch 24.20-22)

This episode isn't mentioned much. We are inclined to see Joash as the "good," boy king who cleaned the Temple of his grandmother's depredations. His life ended very differently, once the influence of the priests, through Jehoida, had waned.

The three kings that followed Joash--Amaziah, Azariah/Uzziahand Jotham--all had mothers who were simply "of Jerusalem" (see table). All happened to be God-followers.

Ahaz. There is no mention of the mother of Ahaz, Jotham's son, who plunged the Kingdom of Judah into an orgy of idolatry. He owed his throne to the Assyrian ruler, Tilgath-Pileser, so I'll blame that monarch for Ahaz's embrace of idolatry, rather than a mother.

His religious innovations included
  • building an altar in the Temple that was an exact replica of a pagan altar he had seen in Damascus
  • erecting bronze horses at the entrance to the Temple to welcome the sun
  • removing the bronze cattle that had supported the giant "sea" or basin that Solomon had built in the Temple courts
  • erecting a series of steps at the Temple entrance that would mark the progress of the sun--an homage to the sun god, and a device that would lead to a bittersweet healing for his son
Incidentally, as I was researching Ahaz, I came across this confrontation between this wicked king and the prophet Isaiah:

[Isaiah:]If you do not stand firm in your faith,

you will not stand at all.’”

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7.9-14)

Most of the scriptures from Isaiah that Christians read at Christmas actually refer back to the hope that Judah had of a savior from this wicked, son-sacrificing king ("unto us a child is born" was also written in hopes of ending Ahaz's reign). His son would be...

Hezekiah. His mother was Abijah, a living link to Joash's treachery. She was the daughter of Zechariah, and her link to the priestly class indicates how Hezekiah could have quickly turned things around. She carried the flame of revival, probably strengthened by her father's murder.

Hezekiah married a woman with the prettiest name in the Old Testament: Hephzibah--"my delight is in her." Aside from the pretty name, nothing is known about her, no father, no home town (as is listed for others).

Her son, Manasseh, would surpass Ahaz in paganism and debauchery. Manassah, in turn, would marry Meshullemeth--one of the OT's ugliest names. She came from the desert town of Jotbah, outside the traditional borders of Judah. It makes me wonder if she was Bedouin. Her son, Amon, would also be pagan.

Josiah. The last good king of Judah was a very good king, indeed--surpassing even David and Solomon in his devotion to the God Party. His mother, Jedidah, came from a Judean town, which increases the likelihood that she was a God worshiper.

After Josiah's tragic death in 609 BC, things slipped away quickly. His son, Jehoash, son of the Judean mother, Hamutal, was quickly deposed by Pharaoh Neco. The remaining kings: sons and nephews of Josiah from mothers mentioned in the table above, owed their power to foreign kings, not to God or pagans--all of them would be pagan. Within 25 years, the kingdom was devoured by Babylon.

Moms Matter
I wouldn't call my research conclusive. I'll use a statistical term and call "relevant" the connection between royal marriages and the religious vigor of the Kingdom of Judah.

On the one hand, Solomon's voracious appetite for foreign marriage, Jehosophat's link to the Omri/Ahab family, and power politics brought about periods of idolatry and hedonism in Judah.

On the other hand, marriages within the kingdom--particularly the links to the priestly class that empowered Joash and Hezekiah--brought about revival.

It's time these hidden heroines and femmes fatale got recognized.

14 August 2010

It was Always Solomon's Temple, Sometimes God's

From 963 to 586 BC--377 years--a temple crowned the hill above Jerusalem.

Its bronze pillars, named Jakin and Boaz, gleamed in the rising sun. Its courtyard swarmed with the activity of sacrifice and religious vigor. At least three times a year, the king left his wood-paneled palace next door, strode across the courtyard, and offered sacrifices before the high, bronzed doors.

It was sight renowned in Judea, an edifice meant to draw the attention of heaven itself.

In his prayer of dedication, the builder-king Solomon had asked, "May [God's] eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there" (2 Chronicles 6.20)

Yet God's eyes would be averted over time. His name would be desecrated in the Holy and Most Holy Places many times over the following 377 years. This temple would be ravaged by foreign troops (including Israelites from the ten northern tribes, as well as Egyptians, Edomites, Bedouin and Babylonians). Its treasuries would be emptied often to buy off aggressors from Syria, Egypt and Babylon. More disturbingly, it's courts and its holy places would sometimes host idols of Baal and Asherah.

A careful study of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles begs the question: was this a Temple of God or a Temple of Baal?

I just had to find out, so I spent two weeks pouring over these biblical sources, tracing the lines of the Jewish kings, searching for information about the Temple. The further I studied, the more the story of the Temple came to life, and hidden battles for control--of Judea, of Israel, of God--emerged.

First, I want to post a history of the Judean kings from Solomon to Zedekiah. This covers the time from which the first temple was built to its destruction by the Babylonian army. I wanted to know the political affiliation of the kings (God Party or Pagan Party) and explain any additional notes I learned. I have purposely left out any kings who ruled for two years or less like Abijah, Aram, and Jehoash.

King (Dates)

Party (reference)


Solomon (963-930)

Mixed (see 1K 9.25 and 1K 114-6)

Built hundreds of temples to accommodate his wives (1K11.8)

Rehoboam (930-910)

Pagan (1K 14.22-23)

Pharaoh Shishak invaded in 925, the first foreign ruler to pillage the Temple (1K 14.24-26)

Asa (910-869)

God (1K 15.9-10)

Paid off Ben-Hadad with money from the temple treasury to avert a Syrian invasion (1K 15.18-19)

Jehosophat (869-848)

God (1K 22.43)

Jehoram (848-841)

Pagan (2K 8.18)

Arabs invaded and looted the palace (no mention of the temple) (2Ch 21.16-18)

Ahaziah and Athaliah (841-835)

Pagan (2K 8.27)

Married the daughter of Jezebel, killed during a visit to his in-laws in Israel as part of a coup (2Ch 22.7-9). First recorded sacrifices to Baal offered at the temple during his reign.

Joash (835-796)

God (2K 12.2)

Raised a lot of money for the temple but kept poor accounts (2K 12.13-16), and used much of it to avert Syrian invasion (2K 16.8). Tolerated foreign gods.

Amaziah (796-767)

Mixed (2K 14.3, 2Ch 25.14)

Israel looted the temple during his reign (2K 14.14), worshipped idols captured from Edom (2Ch 25.14)

Azariah/Uzziah (767-740)

God (2K 15.2)

Cursed with leprosy when he tried to burn incense in temple, a role restricted to priests (2Ch 16.16-20)

Jothan (740-735)

God (2K 16.34)

Ahaz (735-715)

Pagan (2Ch 28.1-2)

Put an alter of Baal in front of the Temple (2K 16.10-14), he himself removed the temple furnishings and locked the doors (2Ch 28.24-25)

Hezekiah (715-686)

God (2K 18.3)

Restored Passover celebration and used Temple as a place to pray (2Ch 30.1; 2K 19.3), emptied Temple treasury to avert invasion by Sennacherib (2K 18.15-16)

Manasseh (686-642)

Pagan (2K 21.9)

Set up shrines in the Temple to Asherah (2K 21.3) “and all the starry hosts” (2Ch 33.3-4)

Josiah (642-609)

God (2K 22.2)

Removed idols from temple as well as dormitories for Temple prostitutes and other articles from father’s reign (2K 23.7-11), rebuilt Temple doors (2Ch 29.3)

Jehoikim (609-598)

Pagan (2Ch 36.5)

First looting of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar (2Ch 36.6-7), the second looting takes placed ruging the three-month reign of his son, Jehoiachin

Zedekiah (598-586)

Pagan (2Ch 36.12)

Rebels against both Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah, leading to total destruction of the temple and palace complex (2Ch 36.17-19)

In that list of kings one finds a struggle between the God Party and the Pagan Party, as it swayed kings and brought houses to wealth or ruin. If we split up the Temple's lifespan between service to God, service to idols, and the mixed affections of Solomon and Azariah, we end up with this:
  • Worship of God: 195 years
  • Worship of idols: 120 years
  • Mixed Worship: 62 years
When I think of how much emphasis that Jews place upon the Temple--or the lily-white understanding of its history that Christians acquire from the Old Testament--I'm shocked by the reality of the first temple's history. Of the 377 years it looked out over Jerusalem, it served the interests of the God Party just over half the time.

When the Temple Was God's
Solomon set up the traditions of the Temple and assigned duties that would extend down through the kings that followed. We find in 2 Chronicles 8 a description of the services he ordained.

(This may have been a result of a moral crisis brought about by Solomon's marriage of Pharaoh's daughter in verse 11. Initially Solomon is careful to keep her away from the Temple, in a palace separate from his father's--in the long run, he would build temples for her gods as well as the gods of many, many other foreign wives.)

Solomon inaugurated a tradition--passed down from his father, David--where he presided over sacrifices on "Sabbaths, New Moons and the three annual feasts--the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles" (verse 14). He also set Levites in charge of the Temple services, leading out in praise, guarding the gates, and overseeing the treasury.

After a generation of paganism, led by Solomon's son, Rehoboam, Asa would reconsecrate the Temple and the people of his kingdom, close to the 70th anniversary of the Dedication of the Temple (2Ch 15.10-15). Asa's son, Jehosophat, carried on with the God Party. Preparing for battle with Moab and Ammon, he gathered the people before the Temple, begging God's leading (2 Chronicles 20.1-21). God responded by granting a prophecy to one of the Levites, Jahaziel, giving away the secret plans of the enemy. The people left the temple courts for the battlefield...and they were singing. Asa and Jehosophat would lead a 58-year renaissance for the God Party that would be disrupted economically, spiritually and militarily by those arch villains of the Old Testament: Ahab and Jezebel.

The next renewal would be led by the boy-king, Joash--a grandson of both Jehosophat and Ahab. He would inaugurate a 100-year reign of the God Party, albeit a time when idolatry would be condoned. An initial wave of fundraising by Joash brought some repairs, but also was diverted by corruption and an outright bribe to prevent a Syrian invasion. The Temple would bring the final king to a miserable end, when Uzziah tried to burn incense, only to be cursed with leprosy for appropriating a Levitical duty. One more mark of Joash's reforms was the way the priests were empowered, beginning with Uncle Jehoida, who had protected the prince from his murderous grandmother, Athaliah.

There would be two more renewals in the final 150 years of the Temple's history. Hezekiah would celebrate Passover (2 Chronicles 30) and carefully retrace Solomon's footsteps by establishing regular sacrifices and duties for the Levites (compare 2 Chronicles 31.2-19 with 2 Chronicles 8). Josiah, Hezekiah's grandson, would undo the terrible desecration enacted by his father, Manasseh, and successfully use Temple funds to rebuild and restore it. At the time of Josiah's untimely death, the Passover and Temple rites were so refined that the chronicler admitted they "had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel" (2 Chronicles 35.18).

The chronicler described Hezekiah's reign with an accolade that I wish would have described all of Judah's kings:
"In everything that he undertook in the service of God's temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered" (2Ch 31.21).
When the Message was Mixed
Two kings didn't know whom to serve. They did great things for God that were matched by appalling choices. I place both of them in the Mixed Party.

After setting up the Temple rituals and assigning roles to the Levites in 2 Chronicles 8, Solomon set off in search of treasures from Ophir, met the Queen of Sheba, and left the Temple behind him. As he added more wives to the harem, he added more idols to his devotions. "He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done" (2K 11.5-6) [See the image of Ashtoreth at right].

The second mixed monarch was Amaziah, son of Joash. The writer of Kings notes, "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done" (2K 14.3). He just wasn't "as right" as David? Amaziah would win a terrific victory over the Edomites, but he would follow that victory by worshiping idols he had captured (2Ch 25.14). Following his victory over Edom, he challenged the kingdom of Israel, only to be defeated, captured in battle, and pillaged as the army of Israel broke into Jerusalem and looted the Temple (2K 14.14). Amaziah claimed membership in the God Party, but his actions betrayed him.

When the Temple Belonged to Idols
Rehoboam, the son of one of Solomon's foreign wives, was the first to wholly endorse the Pagan Party. Idols appeared in high places and male prostitutes enlivened pagan ceremonies. Of course the greatest offense against the Temple was an invasion by Pharaoh Shishak, who stripped the Temple and the Palace of the Forests of Lebanon just five years after the death of Solomon (1K 14.25). (It will take another blog to trace the sins of Judah's kings to their mothers--and believe me, it's coming.)

The second era of Pagan Party rule coincided with the rise of the Omrides in Israel--the rule of kings Omri through his grandson, Ahab, a time when Israel reached its heights of prosperity and cultural dominance. Jehoram married a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel named Athaliah. During Jehoram's reign, Bedouins would raid Jerusalem and sack the Temple. His son, Ahaziah ruled for a short time, leaving Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel, in control. Her sons offered the first recorded sacrifices to Baal inside the Temple (2Ch 24.7) This era ended with the interference of a priest, Jehoida, the rise of Joash, and the renewal of the God Party (I have written about the dominance of the priestly class already).

Three more eras of Pagan Party rule followed the 100-year reign of Joash-Amaziah-Uzziah. Each coincided with the cultural dominance of first Assyria, then Egypt.

Ahaz ruled in Jerusalem at the time Assyria extinguished the northern kingdom of Israel (721). His conversion to the Pagan Party had a lot to do with placating the Assyrians. He himself looted the temple and sent the gold to Tilgath-Pileser, begging him to invade Aram (Damascus) and Israel. On a visit to Damascus, Ahaz saw an altar, which he sketched. On his return to Jerusalem, he ordered that a copy be built in front of the Temple, moving Solomon's great altar in order to complete the new project. He gutted the Temple, trying to convert it to the worship of Assyrian gods:
"King Ahaz took away the side panels and removed the basins from the movable stands. He removed the Sea from the bronze bulls that supported it and set it on a stone base. He took away the Sabbath canopy that had been built at the temple and removed the royal entryway outside the temple of the Lord, in deference to the king of Assyria" (2K 16.15-16)
When Hezekiah took power and began renewal, it took 2 1/2 weeks to clean out all of the pagan artifacts that Ahaz had installed in the Temple (2Ch 29.16-17).

A second Assyrian peon was Manasseh, the most notorious Pagan to rule in Judah. "He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, 'In Jerusalem I will put my name'" (2K 21.4). These included an Asherah pole (for fertility rites) and an altar of Baal. In the courts around the Temple, "he built altars to all the starry hosts" (verse 5). He even sacrificed his children in the fire.

The tragic death of Josiah would begin the final era of the Pagan Party. At this point Judah was a geopolitical football, punted back and forth between empires in Egypt and Babylon. Josiah's son, Jehoash, may have been in the God Party, but Pharaoh Neco deposed him shortly after his victory over Josiah, and replaced him with the hopelessly pagan, Jehoiakim. Jehoash would end his days in exile--later joined by Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem. The final two kings, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah tried paganism, but failed to placate Babylon, which destroyed the Temple in 586.

Like an Object in the Rear-View Mirror
While the spiritual significance of the Temple that Solomon built never wavered for members of the God Party, it was also the political centerpiece of a tug-of-war between factions within the ruling elite of Judah. On the one side stood the God Party: descendants of David, prophets, the priestly class. On the other side stood the Pagan Party: descendants of foreign wives, proponents of alliances with Israel, Assyria and Egypt.

The Temple was looted five times by foreign kings, one time by Ahaz. Its treasures rose and were lost with the fortunes of the kingdom. Just consider its greatest treasure, for example--the Ark of the Covenant. There are six different possible forces that could have taken it away.

Yet the idea of the Temple--a place in Jerusalem where God's holy name would dwell--endured for a thousand years, from the time of Solomon through the time of Christ. I have a few more temple-related threads in the Old Testament that I want to clear up--the Temple in the Psalms, the role of mothers in the party affiliations of the Kings of Judah, and the Temple in the Prophets--before I move on to the second temple of Ezra and the third temple of Herod. It is both the Temple Idea and the reality of what the Temple actually achieved that I want to explore further.