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SAMUEL BAGSTER & SONS, 15, PATERNOSTER ROW.
western side of the river Jordan. For he resolutely and unsparingly desecrated and destroyed idolatry, with its altars and priesthood, not only at Bethel, but also in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali' (2 Chron. xxxiv. 6). And we read elsewhere, that “ he took away all the b high places in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel. And he slew (sacrificed, marg.) all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem (2 Kings xxiii. 19, 20).
Nothing can be more certain than that the tidings of such a scornful and decisive desecration and destruction of idolatrous places, altars, and priests in his province of Samaria, would highly exasperate the Assyrian monarch then occupying the throne of
ineveh, if he were actually, and not merely nominally, the master of Samaria at the period in question. He could not but regard this violent attack upon idols and altars as heinous sacrilege, and an unpardonable insult to his own authority and majesty. And consequently (speaking after the manner of men) the throne and personal liberty of Josiah, if not his very life, would have been seriously endangered.
Now it is here that a question, not without its interest and importance, at once suggests itself, and which it is the leading object of this essay to discuss. Are we to believe that the reigning monarch in Nineveh was actually the supreme lord of Samaria at the time of Josiah's memorable desecration of idolatry in that province ? Or, is it rather to be inferred that, in consequence of some momentous vicissitudes in Assyrian affairs, the remote and comparatively obscure district of Samaria had already, through the mysterious dispensations of Divine Providence, really passed from the hands of the Assyrian king? And that the Most High had virtually resumed (so to speak) his former immediate sovereignty and government of the land of the ten tribes, thus bringing it once more under the anti-idolatrous denunciations of the Mosaic law ? Nay, that he had virtually again given it (now destitute of any earthly master) to be, for a brief space, under the rule of the house of David, to which it had originally belonged.
b No mention is here made of such altars as may have been erected throughout Samaria, by the Gentile colonists to their various idols. It is however probable that all which came under the notice of the king would be destroyed. The zeal of Josiah was doubtless especially directed against the ‘ high places' made by the kings of Israel, which were only the successive developments of the same spirit of guilty disloyalty to Jehovah, manifested by Jeroboam at Bethel, and also at Dan. But the establishment of the golden calf, with its altar, at Bethel, was the more flagrant outrage of the two; as this place was upon the borders of Judah, at no very great distance from Jerusalem, and closely associated with the history of the patriarch Jacob.
It is not credible that Josiah was ignorant of the memorable prediction uttered three centuries previously against that guilty spot. And he would naturally feel i.hat, while this solemn prediction commanded him to accomplish its literal denunciation against Bethel, its spirit justified him (perhaps called him to the additional task) in overthrowing the idolatry of Israel (should circumstances permit it, without detriment to the sovereign jurisdiction of the Assyrian monarch) in all the other high places and altars which had been subsequently erected in the land of Jehovah, in imitation of the parent altar at Bethel. It is also not improbable that (as happened in Hezekiah's reformation) the Lord inclined the hearts of the remnant of Israel in Samaria, at least in the neighbouring territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, to encourage Josiah, and co-operate with him.
Before we examine the page of secular history, let us inquire to what inference upon this point the Hebrew records naturally and obviously conduct us. Surely, when it is borne in mind that Josiah, after his apparently presumptuous and unpardonable desecration of idolatrous worship in Samaria, suffered no molestation during the remaining thirteen years of his reign from Nineveh (or from Babylon), it seems almost necessary to conclude that, at the time in question, the Assyrian was either too weak, or too much engaged with more important events at home, to have leisure and ability for the due assertion of claims of sovereignty over the far distant land of the ten tribes, against the earnest, zealous, and comparatively powerful king of Judah. And this conclusion derives further confirmation from the fact recorded by the sacred historian, that, at the close of Josiah's reign, Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, so little feared the arms of Assyria or Babylon, that he did not hesitate to undertake in person a hostile expedition to the banks of the distant Euphrates, when Josiah sought to arrest his course, and, in attempting to do this, was mortally wounded in battle at Megiddo. Doubtless that which most satisfactorily accounts for Pharaoh's venturing upon an expedition so remote, also best explains why the king of Judah had remained unmolested during the preceding thirteen years, viz., that Assyria was now too weak, and Babylon not yet sufficiently strong, to be regarded as formidable on the western side of the Euphrates.
I shall now endeavour to confirm from secular history this conclusion to which the sacred records lead us, and to show that at the time when the zealous and pious son of Amon so sternly and scornfully overthrew idolatry in the territory of the ten tribes, the Scythian invasion and dominion in the vicinity of the Euphrates and Tigris, after the overthrow of the Median Cyaxares, had rendered it impossible for the sovereign of Nineveh to punish the Jewish king for thus acting as the independent lord of Samaria, and doing in the most public manner that which would certainly be, in the highest degree, offensive and insulting to a proud and idolatrous Assyrian monarch.