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John Salverda sent the following note:
Dear Yair, I note that you didn't mention the helpful quote from the very capable Sir James George Frazer, who states in his book "The Golden Bough" Chapter LXII, Section 4, Paragraph 4. (see how he links the practice to human sacrifice)
# In the parish of Callander, a beautiful district of Western Perthshire, the Beltane custom was still in vogue towards the end of the eighteenth century. It has been described as follows by the parish minister of the time:
"Upon the first day of May, which is called
day, all the boys in a township or hamlet, meet in the moors. They cut a table
in the green sod, of a round figure, by casting a trench in the ground, of such
circumference as to hold the whole company. They kindle a fire, and dress a
repast of eggs and milk in the consistence of a custard. They knead a cake of
oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone. After the custard is
eaten up, they divide the cake into so many portions, as similar as possible to
one another in size and shape, as there are persons in the company. They daub
one of these portions all over with charcoal, until it be perfectly black. They
put all the bits of the cake into a bonnet. Every one, blindfold, draws out a
portion. He who holds the bonnet, is entitled to the last bit. Whoever draws the
black bit, is the devoted person who is to be sacrificed to
they mean to implore, in rendering the year productive of the sustenance of man
and beast. There is little doubt of these inhuman sacrifices having been once
offered in this country, as well as in the east, although they now pass from the
act of sacrificing, and only compel the devoted person to leap three times
through the flames; with which the ceremonies of this festival are closed."
It is also to be noted that the present practice of abortion is similar to child sacrifice to Moloch.
Abortion means killing the human foetus while it is still inside the womb though in some cases the baby is murdered after being born.
The rational is often that this is for the good of the mother and society.
So too, in ancient times children were killed for what was considered the ultimate good of the community.
[2-Kings 16:4] And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.
Ahaz worshipped idols.
We may find this strange to understand but the situation was different then. People believed that idol worship brought benefits. otherwise they would not have done it. We too under pressure, emotional strain, or exceptional circumstances may be tempted at times to do things we would not normally agree with.
There is a play on words here such as is frequently found in
Scripture. Daat Mikra tells us that there was a region named Aram (or "Aran")
near present-day Akaba in Jordan opposite Elat. The Aramaean nation comprised a
large body of peoples groups of whom were to be found throughout the Middle
East. The same applies to the Edomites and their offshoots. Edomites and
Aramaeans intermixed with each other.
This whole episode concerning Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Aram and their intentions towards Judah is reflected in the Book of Isaiah chapters 7 and 8.
Here are the Brit-Am Summaries to Isaiah chapters 7 and 8. They enable us to put the situation into some kind of perspective.
Chapter 7: In the time of Isaiah Rezin the King of Aram ("Syria") and Pekah the son of Remaliah the King of the northern entity of "Israel" (the Ten Tribes) attempted to conquer Jerusalem the capital of Judah but they could not (7:1). Isaiah was told to take a message to King Ahaz of Judah and tell him to be strengthened (7:4). The plans of his enemies would not succeed (7:5-7). Ephraim (Samaria) was destined to be exiled completely at the end of a prophesied sixty-five years. Rashi says that the expression "WITHIN SIXTY-FIVE YEARS EPHRAIM WILL BE BROKEN TO PIECES SO THAT IT WILL NO LONGER BE A PEOPLE" (7:8) was a well-known quotation from Amos that Ahaz should have been aware of and that the already-predicted 65 year waiting period would soon be up (7:8-9). Ahaz King of Judah was requested to ask for a sign from heaven to affirm the reassurance from heaven that Isaiah had imparted (7:10-11). He refused and was rebuked (7:11-12). The sign given is that a young woman (a wife of King Ahaz?) who was already pregnant would bear a son named "Emanuel"(7:14). Shortly after the child is weaned the combined Land (?) of "Israel" and "Aram" will be deserted (7:16). The disaster would be occasioned by the King of Assyria and the calamity will be as great as when the Northern Ten Tribes split away from Judah and formed their own kingdom (7:17). The area will be cleaned out of inhabitants like a razor passing over a head of hair and the rest of the body (7:20). There will be desolation in the Northern Kingdom (7:22-25). How this ties up with the 65 year scenario noted above is not clear. Pekah is listed as ruling over Israel in the tears 737-735 BCE. The Exile of the northern kingdom occurred in stages and is conventionally considered to have been completed with the fall of the city of Samaria in 722 BCE.
Chapter 8: Isaiah was told to take a writing tablet and write words before witnesses indicating the speed of the coming events involving the fall of Ephraim (8:1). He also begat (by his wife who was a prophetess in her own right) a child to whom he bestowed the same indicative expression he had written. The events were to take place before the child learned to say "Daddy" or "Mummy" (8:4). The attack of Assyria would be like an overflowing flood that would also involve a good portion of Judah (8:8). Even so, despite the antagonism of foreign nations God will be with Judah (8:10). We are warned against belief in "Conspiracy" Theories (8:12). We must fear God only (8:13). He is "The Great Conspirer in the Sky". He judges both Houses of Israel (8:14). God dwells on Mount Zion (8:18). Do not go to spiritualists, witch doctors, and the like for they are involved with death whereas our God is the God of Life (8:19). They who put their faith in entities other than God will be disappointed and will end up cursing the other entities (8:21).
Isaiah chapter nine continues to speak of this period.
These prophecies of Isaiah relate BOTH to his own times and to the future.
Isaiah 9:21 tells us that,
# Manasseh shall devour Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh; Together they shall be against Judah.
For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still. #
We see that Manasseh was against Ephraim and Ephraim was against Manasseh. They both ganged up together against Judah and that was not the end of it but civil strife was also coming from elsewhere.
We have here an indication that not only did the the northern Kingdom join forces with Aram versus Judah but also forces identified with Ephraim were hostile to those of Manasseh and that the whole Kingdom of Israel may have been in a state of virtual anarchy.
[2-Kings 16:7] So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, saying, "I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me."
[2-Kings 16:8] And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasuries of the king's house, and sent it as a present to the king of Assyria.
[2-Kings 16:9] So the king of Assyria heeded him; for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and took it, carried its people captive to Kir, and killed Rezin.
The Arameans were taken to Kir which is understood to be an area of Armenia in the Caucasus. The very name "Armenia" may derive from Aram"!
There were TWO DIFFERENT PLACES referred to as Damascus in Scripture. One was where the present-day Damascus captial of Syria now stands . The other was in the region of Gozan on the Habor River.
Brit-Am Historical Reports
#1. Max von Oppenheim and Gozan of Edom, Syria, and Israel.
We are not sure which "Damascus" is referred to here but are inclined to the view that the Gozan region is intended.
See map below.
THE death of the strong king of Judah, Uzziah, marked the end of an era for both kingdoms. The careful dating of the prophet Isaiah's call, "in the year of King Uzziah's death" (Isaiah 6: 1), may well have significance beyond the chronological. Now both the longlived and competent Hebrew kings were dead, and the Assyrians were once more on the march, led by one of their most able kings ever, Tiglath-pileser Ill. The Syrian kingdoms had weakened themselves by a bitter struggle between themselves, Israel had fragmented, and Judah on its own was no match for the Assyrians. The old treaty friendship between Phoenicia and Israel had broken down, as is clear from the denunciation of Tyre by Amos (1 :9)...
An old enemy, Egypt, had not interfered in Palestinian affairs for many long years, so past hostilities could be conveniently forgotten. As for the Egyptians, they had no particular affection for their small northern neighbours, but they had no wish at all to see a powerful nation like Assyria establishing its position on Egypt's frontiers, and were accordingly ready to listen to pleas for help. Thus Egypt begins to come back into our story .
.. The Assyrian records relating to "Azriau of Yaudi" [Azaria of Judah] are broken and difficult to read, but there is no doubt that the anti-Assyrian coalition suffered a defeat, as a result of which tribute had to be paid to Tiglath-pileser III by no few local kings, including Uzziah [Azariah] himself, Menahem of Israel, and Rezin of Damascus. ... The king of Damascus, Rezin, retained his throne, but in Judah Uzziah's death was followed fairly soon afterwards by the death of his son Jotham, while in Israel similarly Menahem's son and successor Pekahiah had a very brief reign. Before long, accordingly, the' three kings of these states were Rezin, Ahaz (Uzziah's grandson), and Pekah respectively . . A strong coalition seemed to offer the only hope. Some smaller states were prepared to support them in the enterprise; but Judah declined to do so. ... The ringleaders of the coalition, Pekah and Rezin, were dismayed at the refusal of Judah to be implicated; indeed, according to Isaiah, they were "burning with rage',' (Isaiah 7:4). ...therefore, they now attacked Judah; hoping to frighten Ahaz into joining the confederacy, or to frighten his subjects into deposing him, or else, at the worst, to render his kingdom powerless to pose any ,threat to their enterprise.... The' combined armies of Israel and Damascus swept resistance aside and besieged Jerusalem. The Syrian army also sent detachments to liberate Edom, Judah's vassal...The Edomites then swiftly captured Elath, Judah's Red Sea port, and began to raid southern Judah. Meanwhile, the Philistines were retrieving lost ground and taking over parts of Judaean territory on the West. King Ahaz himself had an additional, personal cause for anxiety; his attackers had found a man they hoped would replace him as king of Judah, a certain "son of Tabeel" (Isaiah 7:6).
... One urgent task [for King Ahaz of Judah] was to ensure an adequate water supply - always a problem for Jerusalem in time of siege. He ventured in person beyond the city walls to check on the situation at one of the few water conduits; and while thus occupied ...He was confronted by the prophet Isaiah, who predicted the downfall of both Samaria and Damascus, and advised him to keep calm and do nothing except to exercise faith in God. .... It is clear that Ahaz did not have the firm faith which Isaiah recommended to him... Discounting the prophet's advice, therefore, "Ahaz sent messengersto Tiglath-pileser, King of Assyriato say, 'I am your servant and your son, Come and save me from the King of Aram and from the King of Israel who are attacking me.' Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries or the royal palace and sent them to the King of Assyria as a bribe" (2 Kings 16:7f.).... Ahaz's action had long-term effects which were anything but beneficial to Judah, First and foremost, Judah lost her right to independent political policies.... The other long-term effect was religious. 2 Kings 16:10-18 is a passage which is not altogether ea.sy to interpret,but it is stated plainly that the purpose of some at least of the innovations at the Jerusalem temple was "to satisfy the King of Assyria". ... But at least Ahaz reaped the short-term benefits he was seeking: "The ' King of Assyria listened to him; he advanced on Damascus, captured it, deported its inhabitants to Kira and put Rezin to death" (2 Kings 16:9)...The precise sequence of events is uncertain, but it seems most probable that in three successive years' campaigns (734-732 B.C.) the Assyrian armies attacked and conquered the coastal plain, from Tyre down to the Egyptian border, the northern and eastern parts of Israel, and finally -the kingdom of Damascus. The Philistine city of Gaza was taken, and its king Hanunu fled to Egypt. The fate of Damascusis briefly told on the Assyrian Nimrud Tablet: 13 "The widespread territory of Damascus in its whole extent I restored 'to. the border of Assyria. My official I set over them as district-governor. " In other words, not only was Rezin executed and some of his citizens deported (as 2. Kings records), but the kingdom became a mere Assyrian province, its political integrity a thing of the past.
But our chief interest lies in the kingdom of Israel, which seems to have felt the main thrust of Tiglathzpileser's second campaign 'of these three years. The capital, Samaria, and the central and southern part of the kingdom, Ephraim, emerged unscathed; but that must have been small comfort. The full weight of the Assyrian armies fell upon the north of the country, Galilee, and the great fortress city of Hazor fell; it was ruthlessly destroyed, and was never rebuilt. Further south, the no less important city of Megiddo suffered a similar fate; it was the Assyrians themselves who rebuilt it. Tiglath-pileser lists some of his captures in Galilee, and the evidence permits us to trace his three-pronged attack on Israel. 14 From Hazor, some of his troops marched west, and mastered the coastal plain in the area of Acco and Dor; some marched south-west and destroyed Megiddo; and the third army marched south and east into Israelite Transjordan, making that territory their own. The citizens of Samaria could not doubt that it would be their turn next, unless something were done swiftly to dissuade Tiglath-pileser from further attacks. The action they took is stated succinctly by both the Bible and the Nimrud Tablet, in slightly different but complementary terms; "Hoshea son of Elah", says 2 Kings 15:30, "formed a conspiracy againstPekah son of Remaliah, attacked him, killed him and usurped the throne." Tiglath-pileser records of the people of Israel that "Pekah their king they deposed and Hoshea I set asking over them. "15 In other words, Hoshea came to the throne as leader of a pro-Assyrian faction, and the Assyrian king was content to ratify his position (on receipt of tribute). " Thus Israel, like Judah, became a mere puppet kingdom ' of Assyria. Worse than that, she forfeited a great deal - at least two thirds - of her territory, for the Assyrians did not return the conquered areas to the control of Samaria. Instead, Tiglath-pileser reorganized his conquests, as Assyrian provinces, administered by Assyrian governors. . Isaiah, who watched these events from the safety of Judah, alludes to Tiglath-pileser's invasion in 9: 1, and may be referring to the three new provinces when he speaks of "the way of the sea" (i.e. the province of Dor, on the Mediterranean coast), "the land beyond the Jordan" (the province of Gilead), and "Galilee of the nations" (the province of Megiddo - the Assyrians rebuilt the city to serve as the administrative capital).16 The old tribal areas of Zebulun and Naphtali, to which Isaiah also refers here, were among those lost to Israel...
[2-Kings 16:10] Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern, according to all its workmanship.
[2-Kings 16:11] Then Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus. So Urijah the priest made it before King Ahaz came back from Damascus.
[2-Kings 16:12] And when the king came back from Damascus, the king saw the altar; and the king approached the altar and made offerings on it.
[2-Kings 16:13] So he burned his burnt offering and his grain offering; and he poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar.
We hope to do a separate Commentary on the Book of Chronicles.
Even so it is worth while here quoting at length from the parallel passages in Chronicles since they help us understand what was going on:
2 Chronicles 28
1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his father David had done. 2 For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals. 3 He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. 4 And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.
5 Therefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria. They defeated him, and carried away a great multitude of them as captives, and brought them to Damascus. Then he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who defeated him with a great slaughter. 6 For Pekah the son of Remaliah killed one hundred and twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all valiant men, because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers. 7 Zichri, a mighty man of Ephraim, killed Maaseiah the king's son, Azrikam the officer over the house, and Elkanah who was second to the king. 8 And the children of Israel carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand women, sons, and daughters; and they also took away much spoil from them, and brought the spoil to Samaria.
9 But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Oded; and he went out before the army that came to Samaria, and said to them: 'Look, because the LORD God of your fathers was angry with Judah, He has delivered them into your hand; but you have killed them in a rage that reaches up to heaven. 10 And now you propose to force the children of Judah and Jerusalem to be your male and female slaves; but are you not also guilty before the LORD your God? 11 Now hear me, therefore, and return the captives, whom you have taken captive from your brethren, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.'
12 Then some of the heads of the children of Ephraim, Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai, stood up against those who came from the war, 13 and said to them, 'You shall not bring the captives here, for we already have offended the LORD. You intend to add to our sins and to our guilt; for our guilt is great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.' 14 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the leaders and all the assembly. 15 Then the men who were designated by name rose up and took the captives, and from the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them, dressed them and gave them sandals, gave them food and drink, and anointed them; and they let all the feeble ones ride on donkeys. So they brought them to their brethren at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.
16 At the same time King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria to help him. 17 For again the Edomites had come, attacked Judah, and carried away captives. 18 The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the lowland and of the South of Judah, and had taken Beth Shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, Sochoh with its villages, Timnah with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages; and they dwelt there. 19 For the LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the LORD. 20 Also Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him and distressed him, and did not assist him. 21 For Ahaz took part of the treasures from the house of the LORD, from the house of the king, and from the leaders, and he gave it to the king of Assyria; but he did not help him.
22 Now in the time of his distress King Ahaz became increasingly unfaithful to the LORD. This is that King Ahaz. 23 For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, saying, 'Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.' But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel. 24 So Ahaz gathered the articles of the house of God, cut in pieces the articles of the house of God, shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and made for himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem. 25 And in every single city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked to anger the LORD God of his fathers.
26 Now the rest of his acts and all his ways, from first to last, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. 27 So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem; but they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel. Then Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.
We see how Aram had taken many captives from Judah to Damascus. The Edomites and Philstines had attacked Judah and were ravaging it.
Israel also attacked Judah killed 120,000 in habitants in one day. They also took into captivity 200,000 men, women, and children from Judah intending to make them slaves. The Prophet Oded met the Israelites on their return to Samaria and upbraided them for non-fraternal attitude. Consequently the Israelites had a change of heart. The Israelites gave their captives clothing and shoes, food and ointment, set the weak on donkeys and conducted the whole of them to the city of Jericho. From Jericho they would all have been able to make their own way back to their settlements in Judah.
[2-Kings 16:14] He also brought the bronze altar which was before the LORD, from the front of the temple, from between the new altar and the house of the LORD, and put it on the north side of the new altar.
The Commentators are divided in their opinion as to what is exactly meant here.
Originally there had been a bronze altar in the Tabernacle. This was in fact an empty frame made out of bronze. The Israelites would carry this with them in their journeying. When they encamped and set up the Tabernacle the bronze frame would be filled with earth. When Solomon built the Temple this bronze frame was replaced by a much larger altar made out of a molten stone-metal conglomerate. The bronze frame was hidden in one of the numerous caves under the Temple complex. Perhaps King Ahaz took it back out of its hiding place? This may be what is referred to here though most (if not all?) commentators think differently.
[2-Kings 16:15] Then King Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, ?On the great new altar burn the morning burnt offering, the evening grain offering, the king?s burnt sacrifice, and his grain offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, their grain offering, and their drink offerings; and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice. And the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.
# to inquire by" from the Hebrew "le-baker": This translation is
consistent with the Radak and other Commentators.
It could also connote "at exceptional times" which is how the Malbim renders it.
It should be remembered by those who might be reserved concerning our dependence on Rabbinical Commentators that all foreign language translations of the Bible have been dependant upon them. If anything our learning of these sources enables us to take an innovative approach at times while remaining faithful to both tradition and the literal Hebrew text.
[2-Kings 16:16] Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that King Ahaz commanded.
[2-Kings 16:17] And King Ahaz cut off the panels of the carts, and removed the lavers from them; and he took down the Sea from the bronze oxen that were under it, and put it on a pavement of stones.
Radak suggests the Ahaz did all these things due to fear of the King of Assyria as indicated in verse 16:18 below, "on account of the king of Assyria".
Remember that the word rendered by "oxen" throughout the English Translations is "shor" or in the plural "shevarim" meaning "bulls" not "oxen" which are castrated bulls. The Hebrew were forbidden to castrate animals and usually did not do so. It may be that most bulls then extant were of a smaller build and milder disposition than the ones we have today.
The "Sea" consisted of an enormous bronze basin supported by 12 bulls.
See illustrations below.
[2-Kings 16:18] Also he removed the Sabbath pavilion which they had built in the temple, and he removed the king's outer entrance from the house of the LORD, on account of the king of Assyria.
The Sabbath pavilion was apparently an edifice for the Kings of Judah to stay in the Temple precincts during the daily and Sabbath services.
Only kings of Judah were allowed to sit in the Temple courtyard.
[2-Kings 16:19] Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
[2-Kings 16:20] So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.
|After the Death of Solomon:|
The Divided Kingdom
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