Melakhim: The Book
By Rav Alex
Shiur #15: An Interim "Introduction" to Sefer
We have now
reached the point of Melakhim I at which the tone of the sefer
changes. Up until this point, we
have been studying a flowing story: the tale of David's final days and the
struggle for leadership; the achievements, and downfall of Shlomo Ha-Melekh; and
of Yerovam and the split of the kingdom.
Now, the rhythm of the sefer alters sharply. We read brief, rather dry and formulaic
accounts of kings. These passages
lack the dramatic energy of the narratives of Shlomo and Yerovam. They are formal and contain standardized
language, with information supplied in brevity. We will list the critical elements of
the depictions of these kings and explain how to harvest information from them.
Moreover, we will see that these standardized paragraphs give us a window to
understanding the central theme of Sefer Melakhim.
that documents each king follows a specific outline containing the following
1. The year that the king ascends the
throne, synchronized against the parallel king in the
2. The length of his
3. For the kings of Yehuda, the king's age
of ascent to the throne is recorded,
as is the name of the king's mother.
4. We are given a religious assessment of
the king. Either he "did that which
was right in the eyes of Hashem"
or "he did evil in the eyes of Hashem."
5. Frequently, a summary of the
achievements of the king follows this introductory information. We may hear of wars, victories, or
invasions, or events that concern the Mikdash and its treasuries. We also read about impressive
construction and civil achievements, or alternatively of assassinations and
conspiracies (particularly in the Northern
6. The account of the king closes with his
death and burial. Frequently, it
mentions his successor. At times,
we are also referred to other sources, the "Book of Chronicles of the Kings of
Yehuda," or its counterpart "Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Israel," which,
we are told, contain more detailed information about the king. These books were clearly well-known to
the author of Sefer Melakhim.
In the light
of this last point, we should consider the fact that the author of the
sefer had more information at his fingertips; he knew about parallel
royal works. If he chose this brief
format, then he made a specific decision to write in this style. His brevity is
not a result of paucity of source information. The style here is
7. Correlation and synchronization: We must
also give mention that the text synchronizes the kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael,
ensuring that as we progress with the one, we never lose hold of the other. In other words, Sefer
Melakhim ensures that the stories of both kingdoms are told in
EVALUATION OF KINGS IN SEFER MELAKHIM
progress to analyze this phenomenon, let us dwell a little upon the statements
that asses the king in religious terms.
These religious evaluations come in varying degrees and use a set of
form-language phrases. We have
already mentioned the core phrase: a good king "does that which is right
(yashar) in Hashem's eyes," whereas a deviant king "does that
which is evil in Hashem’s eyes." But we also see more sophisticated
phrases, for example, references to David Ha-Melekh:
in all the sins that his father had committed; he was not wholehearted with
Hashem… like his father David. (15:3)
… did what
was right in Hashem's eyes, like his father David.
We also find
the following recurrent phrase, even for good kings of Yehuda:
bamot did not cease to function; the people still sacrificed and offered
at the bamot. (22:44)
Northern kingdom of Israel, the phrase usually relates to
… and he
walked in the path of Yerovam and his sins (15:34)
One of the
most interesting instances of this standardized religious assessment regards the
Zimri, the king of Yisrael. Zimri
was king for only seven days! Yet the navi tells us that "he did evil in
the eyes of Hashem, to walk in the path of Yerovam and the sins that he
had committed and caused Israel to commit" (16:20). Did he
really manage to do all of this in seven days? This accentuates the fact that
this is a code introduced by the author of Sefer Melakhim to assess every
king, whether for good or bad, within a standard format and
AND MESSAGE OF SEFER MELAKHIM
Why do we
have this strict, formalized language? What do these curt, information laden,
telegraphic paragraphs add to the sefer? What is the point of it
statements must be made regarding the nature and purpose of this
sefer. According to
Chazal, "Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) wrote his book (Sefer
Yirmiyahu), Sefer Melakhim, and the Book of Laments
(Bava Batra 14b-15a). Yirmiyahu is the prophet who endured the tumultuous
and horrific tragedy of the Destruction and Israel's
subsequent exile. Chazal
identified him as the author of Sefer Melakhim based on the fact that the
sefer is penned from the vantage point of the Temple's destruction and
the period of national ruin.
As with any
tragedy, people ask the question - what went wrong? Because this is a prophetic
work, it seeks to function as a religious probe and critique, a spiritual
evaluation of an era. The focus and
time-frame are clear. The focus is
to be on the Mikdash. The
book begins with the rise of Shlomo and the building of the Mikdash, and
it ends with its destruction. The
blame is also clear. This is a book
that targets the leaders, and hence it assesses the leadership – king by king -
to discern which national figures accelerated the path to that great calamity of
churban and which tried to reverse or stem that process, steering the
nation on a path of repentance.
Every king is listed and surveyed in order to understand their part. Hence, no link in the chain from
building to destruction may be omitted.
Melakhim goes further. It
focuses on a single problem: that of idolatry. It knows precisely where to place the
blame, which area of deviance constitutes the core of the problem. Our book is
focused and locked-in upon idolatry and its associated practices. From the very
start, the bamot are recorded in the era of Shlomo (3:2) and Shlomo is
accused explicitly of building shrines to and serving other gods. In general, each and every king is
evaluated in accordance with this sole criterion.
When a king is described as "doing what is right in the eyes of Hashem"
or "doing evil in Hashem's eyes," it is always related to a the sin of
idolatry. Thus, this "simplistic" formulation has a certain directedness and
clarity to it.
the sefer, through its comprehensive coverage of BOTH Yehuda and Yisrael,
makes a clear statement that Am Yisrael is a single unit. Both Yisrael
and Yehuda constitute equal and legitimate organs of the Jewish nation, and they
both bear the blame for its destruction.
established the fact that Sefer Melakhim uses these accounts of kings to
generate a sense of continuity and a direct chain from the building of the
Mikdash to its destruction.
But these paragraphs, despite their sparse language, are quite effective
in conveying and articulating a large volume of significant information. Two examples, one very localized and
another general, will illustrate our point. Let us begin with the very section that
follows our previous study:
41 years old when he became king and he reigned 17 years in Jerusalem, the city the Lord had chosen out of all the
tribes of Israel to establish His name
there. His mother's name was
context of Rechavam, Yerovam's counterpart, we read the classic introduction
with the years and his mother's name.
But there is a deviation here (bolded) that appears with NO OTHER
king. Why mention the information
Why mention that Jerusalem is chosen from all tribes for God's
name? I think the answer is clear - Yerovam had torn religious practice away
for 90% of the nation. He had
contested Jerusalem's central role regarding religious
service. The text here therefore
alters the standard language and directs it to make the point that from God's
perspective, from His vantage point, Jerusalem still remains the place of the
Shekhina; it still retains its former status. This is a point that deserves stating
specifically by Rechavam, but it is less relevant in later generations. It thus
appears at this point exclusively.
usage of this system is not through deviation, addition or omission, but rather
by granting a certain clarity that can be conveyed in particular by transmitting
the "big picture." If we tabulate the sparse information of chapters 15 and 16,
we will be able to explain what we mean.
lines indicate an assassination of the king, an act of treason, and a disruption
of the royal line.)
this simple chart, which records basic information found in the text, we can
visualize things quite effectively.
We see that Yehuda experiences a tough period following Shlomo's era,
both nationally and religiously.
But things turn around during the lengthy reign of Assa both religiously
and also regarding economic prosperity and national security. Furthermore, we can identify a stable
line of succession in Yehuda. In
contrast, a glance at the kingdom of Yisrael gives an impression of deep
instability. We see one
assassination after the next, one king lasting only seven days. The spiritual trajectory is wholly
negative. One can immediately see
that Yisrael is in deep trouble.
Moreover, the invasion during the reign of Baasha (from
Aram in the north) indicates serious
weakness of the kingdom.
case, sometimes, less is more. The
brief depictions of each king help us track the basic contours of the nation
regarding spiritual climate, military and international relations, internal
Yisrael-Yehuda relations, as well as the economy. These basic pointers allow us to see a
great deal if we read closely.
PROBLEMS IN SEFER MELAKHIM
One of the
problems endemic to Sefer Melakhim is numerical disparity; the years of
the kings of Yehuda and Yisrael don't always quite match
we are told that in Yerovam's 18th year, Aviyam reigned for 3
years. In his 20th year,
Assa reigned (see 15:1-2 and 15:9-10).
But if Aviyam was king for 3 years, then Assa should ascend the throne in
Yerovam's 21st year! This is just a minor example in which years seem
to go "missing." A number of solutions offer themselves:
1. Overlap of years. Sometimes,
two kings reigned in a single year.
That was probably the case with Aviyam and Assa. If Aviya reigned for 2 years and 4
months, it is called 3 years because he died in the 3rd year of his
reign. But Assa ascends the throne
in the 3rd, and not the 4th, year. Hence, a single year is listed twice,
for the deceased king and the ascendant one. (Phrased differently, a fraction of
a year is considered a full year.)
2. Breaks in succession. This is the
opposite of the previous problem.
See the following:
16:15 - In
Assa's 27th year, Zimri was king for 7 days.
16:23 - In
Assa's 30th year, Omri ruled …
happened to the missing 3 years? In this case, the text gives us a clear
people divided into two, half following Tivni ben Ginat to crown him, and half
following Omri; and the Omri faction was stronger… and Omri ruled.
case, there is a break in succession because the leadership struggle takes 3
3. Two Kings concurrently: Other
models exist. For example, what
happens when a king is incapacitated? A good example is the difficulty of the
years around the reign of the kings Amatzia and Uzzia of Yehuda in Melakhim II
ch.14-15. In one place (14:17) it appears that King Uzzia, reigned in the
15th year of Yerovam. But in another (15:8) it appears that Uzzia
rose to the throne in the 3rd year of Yerovam.
This is a 12 year disparity! What is the solution? The answer lies in the events
that preceded Uzzia. There we read that his father, Amatzia, engaged in a
disastrous war against the Northern kingdom in which he was seized by the enemy
(14:13). We don't know when he was returned, but this resulted in an
assassination attempt which took place away from Jerusalem, in Lachish (14:19-21). How long was Amatzia
absent? When did his son, Uzzia take over? Commentaries suggest that the
likelihood is that the years of the kings are counted twice, and that father,
Amatzia was still alive, while his son, Uzzia, actually ruled the country. So,
we are dealing with two concurrent kings of Yehuda. Both of their years were
included in their separate accounts. Hence the 12 extra years!
topic of this interim introduction is Sefer Divrei Ha-Yamim. Thus far, we have referred to Divrei
Ha-Yamim intermittently, but we will see that from King Rechavam onwards,
that Divrei Ha-Yamim becomes a critical parallel
What are the
differences between Divrei Ha-Yamim and Sefer Melakhim?
Whereas Sefer Melakhim is written with a consciousness of churban,
sin and destruction, Chazal suggest that the author of Divrei
Ha-Yamim was none other than Ezra. This book was written during the period
of Shivat Tzion, the return to Zion and
the early years of the Second Temple. Ezra battled many issues during that
period. He had to lead a nation
that did not believe that they could restore themselves and the Temple to its glory days and rise to the heights of the
stature of the First Temple. He had to struggle with religious
problems, such as intermarriage and widespread disregard for observance of
Shabbat. He had to deal with
disappointment in a Temple that did not meet the grandeur of its
predecessor. How did this influence his perspective of
must mention that since Ezra was dealing with rehabilitating Yehuda and
deals exclusively with the Southern Kingdom, referring to the Northern Kingdom
of Yisrael or Efrayim only when it is relevant to Yehuda.
Ha-Yamim revels in
teshuva, celebrating any king who engages in religious repair and
describing it in great detail. It
frequently paints the "good kings," such as David and Shlomo, as stable and free
of rebellion and sin, as if to boost their stature. Of course, this is a very different
orientation from Sefer Melakhim. Ezra was interested in a more upbeat
tone, allowing the nation to believe that they could succeed.
Divrei Ha-Yamim has a different tone to Sefer Melakhim. In the theological realm, Divrei
Ha-yamim is far more personal and explicit than Sefer Melakhim
about reward and punishment. If a
sin is mentioned in Sefer Melakhim, Divrei Ha-Yamim will
always provide a punishment. If a
worthy act is narrated in Melakhim, Divrei Ha-Yamim will suggest
its reward. The causal links of
reward and punishment, the theological lessons of history, are far more explicit
in Divrei Ha-Yamim. And yet
Sefer Melakhim frequently punishes later generations for the sins
of their forebears. Many at the
time of Ezra felt that they were condemned to fail: "Our fathers sinned and are
no more; and we must bear their guilt." (Eikha 5:7) But Ezra challenges
the idolatry-based focus of Sefer Melakhim, suggesting that
teshuva is possible and that a brighter future is ahead. Whereas a king's actions condemn the
future many generations hence in Sefer Melakhim, that aspect is played
down in Divrei Ha-Yamim. To
that end, one of the most telling aspects of Divrei Ha-Yamim, is that it
opens with nine chapters of genealogies.
(This fits in with the style of Ezra and Nechemia, which
revel in genealogy.) The aim is to connect history to its roots in the era of
the avot. Ezra is telling
people that they are legitimate and that they can start anew.
Ha-Mikdash described in Divrei Ha-Yamim is a place of celebration and
teshuva that is frequently depicted in most positive terms. Whenever Divrei Ha-Yamim detects
a gathering of worship of God at the Mikdash, it describes it
extensively, as if to show the people that they can follow in the character’s
orientations of each book are very different. We shall refer to both sefarim in
the upcoming weeks as we continue with our discussion of the succession of
Melakhim. After this interim
introduction, we shall move ahead next week, to examine the reign of King
is possible that the king's mother, or at times his grandmother, had a special
and elevated status in the palace.
In 15:13, we hear of Ma'achah, who has a status of "Gevira." We do
not know precisely how this position functioned. Another possible example may be Atalia
(Melakhim II, ch.11) although she may reflect the practices of her mother
Izevel more than the Judean "Gevirah" tradition.
to this rule, cases in which the mother's name is not recorded, are Yoram ben
Yehoshafat (Melakhim II 8:16) and Achaz (ibid.,