Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Jehoshaphat's Reign - 2 Chronicles 17-20
Jehoshaphat laboured to strengthen the kingdom both within and without. Not only did he place soldiers in the fenced cities, and removed the high places and the Astartes, but sought also to diffuse the knowledge of the law among the people, and by building castles and the possession of a well-equipped army, firmly to establish his power (2 Chron 17). In the course of years he married into the family of Ahab king of Israel, and, while on a visit in Samaria, allowed himself to be persuaded by Ahab to enter upon a joint war against the Syrians at Ramoth in Gilead, in which he all but lost his life, while King Ahab was mortally wounded in the battle (2 Chron 18). Censured on his return to Jerusalem by the prophet Jehu for this alliance with the godless Ahab, he sought still more earnestly to lead back his people to Jahve, the God of their fathers, bestirring himself to bring the administration of justice into a form in accordance with the law of God, and establishing a supreme tribunal in Jerusalem (Ch2 19:1-11). Thereafter, when the Moabites and Ammonites, with the Edomites and other desert tribes, made an inroad into Judah, the Lord gave him a wonderful victory over these enemies. At a later time he yet again allied himself with the Israelitish king Ahaziah for the restoration of the commerce with Ophir; but the ships built for this purpose were broken in the harbour, so that the voyage was abandoned (2 Chron 20). Of all these enterprises of Jehoshaphat, none are mentioned in the book of Kings except the campaign entered upon with Ahab against Ramoth in Gilead, which is found in the history of Ahab, 1 Kings 22:2-35. Jehoshaphat's reign itself is only characterized generally, but in such a way as to agree with the account in the Chronicle; and, in conclusion, the alliance with Ahaz for the purpose of making the voyage to Ophir is shortly narrated in Kg1 22:41-53, but in a form which differs considerably from that in which it is communicated in the Chronicle.
2 Chronicles 17:1
Jehoshaphat's efforts to strengthen the kingdom, internally and externally. - Ch2 17:1, or rather the first half of this verse, belongs properly to the preceding chapter, since, when the son immediately follows the father on the throne, the successor is mentioned immediately: cf. Ch2 9:31; Ch2 12:16; Ch2 24:27; Ch2 27:9, etc. Here, however, the account of the accession to the throne is combined with a general remark on the reign of the successor, and therefore it is placed at the commencement of the account of the reign; while in the case of Asa (Ch2 14:1) both come in immediately at the conclusion of the reign of his predecessor. Asa had shown himself weak against Israel, as he had sought help against Baasha's attack from the Syrians (Ch2 16:1.), but it was otherwise with Jehoshaphat. He indeed put the fenced cities of his kingdom in a thoroughly good condition for defence, to protect his kingdom against hostile attacks from without (v. 20: but he walked at the same time in the ways of the Lord, so that the Lord made his kingdom strong and mighty (Ch2 17:3-5). This general characterization of his reign is in Ch2 17:6 illustrated by facts: first by the communication of what Jehoshaphat did for the inner spiritual strengthening of the kingdom, by raising the standard of religion and morals among the people (Ch2 17:6-11), and then by what he did for the external increase of his power (Ch2 17:12-19).
2 Chronicles 17:2
He placed forces (חיל) in all the fenced cities of Judah, and garrisons (נציבים, military posts; cf. Ch1 11:16) in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim, which is father Asa had taken; cf. Ch2 15:8. God blessed these undertakings. Jahve was with him, because he walked in the ways of David his ancestor, the former ways, and sought not the Baals. The former ways of David are his ways in the earlier years of his reign, in contrast to the later years, in which his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) and the sin of numbering the people (1 Chron 21) fall. הבּעלים are all false gods, in contrast to Jahve, the one God of Israel; and here the word designates not only the Baal-worship properly so called, but also the worship of Jahve by means of images, by which Jahve is brought down to the level of the Baals; cf. Jdg 2:11. The ל before בּעלים stands, according to the later usage, as a sign of the accusative. In the last clause of Ch2 17:4, "and not after the doings of Israel" (of the ten tribes), הלך, "he walked," is to be repeated. The doing of Israel is the worship of Jahve through the images of the golden calves, which the author of the Chronicle includes in the לבּעלים דּרשׁ.
2 Chronicles 17:5
Therefore Jahve established the kingdom in his hand, i.e., under his rule; cf. Kg2 14:5. All Judah brought him presents. מנחה, often used of tribute of subject peoples, e.g., in Ch2 17:11 of the Philistines, cannot here have that signification; nor can it denote the regular imposts of subjects, for these are not called מנחה; but must denote voluntary gifts which his subjects brought him as a token of their reverence and love. The last clause, "and there was to him (he attained) riches and honour in abundance," which is repeated Ch2 18:1, recalls Ch1 29:28; Ch2 1:12, and signifies that Jehoshaphat, like his ancestors David and Solomon, was blessed for walking in the pious ways of these his forefathers.
2 Chronicles 17:6
This blessing encouraged Jehoshaphat to extirpate from the land all idolatrous worship, and to teach the people the law of the Lord. לב נּבהּ, usually sensu malo, to be haughty, proud, cf. e.g., Ch2 26:16; Ch2 32:25; here sensu bono, of rising courage to advance in ways pleasing to God: and he removed the high places also, etc. עוד points back to Ch2 17:3 : not only did he himself keep far from the Baals, but he removed, besides, all memorials of the Baal-worship from Judah. On בּמות and אשׁרים, see on Ch2 14:2.
In the third year of his reign he sent five princes, i.e., laymen of high position, with nine Levites and two priests, into the cities of Judah, with the book of the law, to teach the law everywhere to the people. בּן־חיל is nom. prop., like בּן־חסד, Kg1 4:10, בּן־דּקר, Kg1 4:9, and is not to be translated as an adjective, as in lxx and Syr., partly on account of the ל praef., and still more on account of the singular, for the plural חיל בּני must be used when it is in apposition to לשׂרי. Nothing further is known of the men named; the designation of them as שׂרים suggests the idea that they were heads of families or fathers'-houses. אדוניּה טוב, too (Ch2 17:8), is one name. The "book of the law of Jahve" is the Pentateuch, not merely a collection of Mosaic laws, since in Jehoshaphat's time the Mosaic book of the law (the Pentateuch) had been long in existence. יהוּדה בּערי סבב signifies to go through the cities of Judah in different directions; baa`aam limeed, to teach among the people (not the people). The mission of these men is called by the older theologians a solemn ecclesiarum visitatio, quam Josaphat laudabili exemplo per universum regnum suum instituit, and they differ in opinion only as to the part played by the princes in it. Vitringa, de synagoga vet. p. 389, in agreement with Rashi, thinks that only the Levites and priests were deputed ut docerent; the princes, ut auctoritate imperioque suo populum erudiendum in officio continerent eumque de seria regis voluntate certiorem facerent; while others, e.g., Buddaeus, refer to Ch2 17:9, ubi principes pariter ac Levitae populum docuisse dicuntur, or believe with Grotius, docere et explicare legem non tantum sacerdotum erat et Levitarum, sed omnium eruditorum. Both views contain elements of truth, and do not mutually exclude each other, but may be harmonized. We can hardly confine למּד to religious teaching. The Mosaic law contains a number of merely civil precepts, as to which laymen learned in the law might impart instruction; and consequently the teaching probably consisted not merely in making the people acquainted with the contents of the law, but at the same time of direction and guidance in keeping the law, and generally in restoring and confirming the authority of the law among the people. In connection with this there were many abuses and illegalities which had to be broken down and removed; so that in this respect the task of the commission sent round the country by Jehoshaphat may be compared to a church inspection, if only we understand thereby not an inspection of churches in the Christian sense of the words, but an inspection of the religious and moral life of the communities of Israel under the old covenant.
2 Chronicles 17:10
This attempt of Jehoshaphat brought him this blessing, that the terror of Jahve fell upon all the surrounding kingdoms; and not only did none of the neighbouring peoples venture to make war upon him, but also various tribes did homage to him by presents. Ramb. has already so understood the connection of these verses (erat hoc praemium pietatis Josaphati, quod vicini satisque potentes hostes non auderent adversus ipsum hiscere); while Berth. fails to apprehend it, saying that Jehoshaphat had time to care for the instruction of his people, because at that time the neighbouring peoples did not venture to undertake war against Judah. The words "terror of Jahve," cf. Ch2 14:13; Ch2 20:29, and "all the kingdoms of the lands," cf. Ch2 12:8, Ch1 29:30, are expressions peculiar to the author of the Chronicle, which show that by these remarks he is preparing the way for a transition to a more detailed portrayal of Jehoshaphat's political power. מן־פּלשׁתּים is subject, מן partitive: some of the Philistines brought him presents (for מנחה see on Ch2 17:5), "and silver a burden," i.e., in great quantity. משּׂא does not signify tribute, vectigal argento (Vulg.), for the word has not that signification, but denotes burden, that which can be carried, as in משּׂא לאן, Ch2 20:25. - ערביאים or ערביּים, Ch2 26:7, and more usually ערבים, Ch2 21:16; Ch2 22:1, are Arabian nomadic tribes (Bedwin), perhaps those whom Asa, after his victory over the Cushite Zerah, had brought under the kingdom of Judah, Ch2 14:14. These paid their tribute in small cattle, rams, and he-goats. (תּישׁים, Gen 30:35; Gen 32:15; Pro 30:31.)
2 Chronicles 17:12
Description of Jehoshaphat's power. - Ch2 17:12. And Jehoshaphat became ever greater, sc. in power. The partic. הולך expresses the continuous advance in greatness, cf. Ew. 280, b, as the infin. absol. does elsewhere, e.g., Gen 8:3. למעלה עד as in Ch2 16:12. - He built castles in Judah. בּירניּות, only here and in Ch2 27:4, from בּירנית, derivative formed from בּירה by the Syriac termination נית-, fem. of ן-: castle, fortress. On מסכּנות ערי cf. Ch2 8:4.
וגו רבּה וּמלעכה is rightly translated by Luther, "und hatte viel Vorraths" (and had much store). מלעכה denotes here, as in Exo 22:7-10, property, that which has been gained by work or business. The signification, much work, opera magna (Vulg., Cler., etc.), as also Bertheau's translation, "the works for equipping and provisioning the fortresses," correspond neither to the context nor to the parallel (synonymous) second member of the verse. The work and trouble necessary to equip the cities of Judah does not correspond to "the valiant warriors in Jerusalem;" the only parallel is the goods and property which were in these cities, the provision of victuals and war material there stored up.
The men fit for war passed in review according to their fathers'-houses. The male population of Judah fell into three divisions, that of Benjamin into two. The prince Adnah held the first place among the generals, with 300,000 men of Judah. ידו על, at his hand, i.e., with and under him, Jehohanan had the command of 280,000 men, and Amasiah over 200,000. השׂר is a contraction for אלפים שׂר. For what special reason it is so honourably recorded of Amasiah that he had willingly offered himself to the Lord (cf. for התנדּב, Jdg 5:9) has not been communicated.
The Benjamites fell into two detachments: archers with shields (cf. Ch1 8:40) 200,000 men, under the chief command of Eliada, and "equipped of the army," i.e., not heavy armed (Berth.), but provided with the usual weapons, sword, spear, and shield (cf. Ch1 12:24), 180,000 under the command of Jehozabad. According to this statement, Judah had 780,000 warriors capable of bearing arms. These numbers are clearly too large, and bear no proportion to the result of the numbering of the people capable of bearing arms under David, when there were in Judah only 500,000 or 470,000 men (cf. Ch1 21:5 with Sa2 24:5); yet the sums of the single divisions appear duly proportioned-a fact which renders it more difficult to believe that these exaggerated numbers are the result of orthographical errors.
These were serving the king. אלּה refers not to the above-mentioned men capable of bearing arms, for sheereet is not used of service in war, but to the commanders whom he had placed in the fortified cities of all Judah, "in which probably bodies of the above-mentioned troops lay as garrisons" (Berth.).