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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 16

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-18


2 Kings 16:1-18

"For when we in our wickedness grow hard,

Oh the misery on’t! the wise gods seal our eyes;

In our own filth drop our clear judgments; make us

Adore our errors; laugh at us while we strut

To our confusion."

AHAZ was indifferent to these prophecies because his heart was otherwhere. It is clear from our authorities that this king had excited an unusually deep antipathy in the hearts of those later writers who judged religion not only from the earlier standpoint, but from the stern and inexorable requirements of the Deuteronomic and the Priestly Codes. The historian, adopting an unusual phrase, says that "he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel." He not only continued the high places, as the best of his predecessors had done, but he increased their popularity and importance by personally offering sacrifices and burning incense "on the hills and under every green tree." It is probable, too, that he introduced into Judah horses and chariots dedicated to the sun. "He made molten images for the Baalim," says the Chronicler, "and burnt incense in the valley of the son of Himmon."

This last was his crowning atrocity: he actually sanctioned the revolting worship of the abomination of the children of Ammon, which Solomon had tolerated on the mount of offense." He made his son to pass through the fire." The Chronicler expresses it still more dreadfully by saying that "he burnt his children in the fire."

In the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, or of the Beni-Hinnom, of which the name is perpetuated in Gehenna, the place of torture for lost souls, there stood a frightful image of the king-Moloch, Melek, Malcham. It represented the sun-god, worshipped, not only as Baal under the emblems of prolific nature, but, like the Egyptian Typhon, as the emblem of the sun’s scorching and blighting force. It was perhaps a human figure with the head of an ox. The arms of the brazen image sloped downwards over a cistern, which was filled with fuel; and when a human sacrifice was to be offered to him, the child was probably first killed, and then placed on these brazen arms as a gift to the idol. It rolled down into the flaming tank, and was consumed amid the strains of music. Recourse was only had to the most frightful form of human sacrifice-the burning of grown-up victims-in extremities of disaster, as when Mesha of Moab offered up his eldest son to Chemosh. on the wall of Kirhareseth in the sight of his people and of the three invading armies. But the sacrifice of children was public, and perhaps annual. Hence Milton, following the learned researches of Selden in his Syntagma "De Dis Syriis," writes:-

"First, Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood

Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears;

Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,

Their children’s cries unheard that pass’d through fire

To his grim idol. Him the Ammonite

Worshipp’d in Rabba and her watery plain,

In Argob and in Basan, to the stream

Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such

Audacious neighborhood, the wisest heart

Of Solomon he led by fraud to build

His temple right against the Temple of God

On that opprobrious hill, and made his grove

The pleasant Valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence

And black Gehenna call’d, the type of hell."

But it may be doubted whether Ahaz, in spite of his frightful position, or, in later days, the less excusable Manasseh, really destroyed the lives of their young sons. The ancients had a notion that they could easily cheat their devil-deities. If a white ox of Clitumnus became unfitted for a victim to Jupiter of the Capitol by having on its body a few black spots, it was quite sufficient to make it pass with the Di faciles by chalking the black spots over it. If human victims had to be thrown into the Tiber to Hercules, Numa taught the people that little wickerwork images (scirpea) would suit the purpose just as well. Figures of dough were sometimes offered instead of human beings on the altar of Artemis of Tauris. Thus it became the custom, it is believed, merely to throw or to pass children through or over the flames, and conventionally to regard them as having been sacrificed, though they might escape the ordeal with little or no hurt. This was called februatio, or "lustration by fire." We may hope that this device was adopted by the two Judaean kings, and, if so, they did not add to their horrible apostasy the crime of infanticide. If, however, Ahaz was even to the smallest extent implicated in such foul idolatries, it is not surprising that he was in no mood to listen to Isaiah. What is profoundly surprising, and is indeed a circumstance for which we cannot account, is that no word of fierce indignation was addressed to him on this account by Urijah, the high priest, whom Isaiah seems to describe as faithful, or by Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah, or by Micah, or by Isaiah, who feared man so little and God so much.

The Assyrian party at the Court of Ahaz prevailed over the Egyptian. Until the accession of the Ethiopian Sabaco in 725, Egypt was indeed in so weak, harassed, and divided a condition under feeble native Pharaohs, that her help was obviously unavailable. The King of Judah, seeing no extrication from his calamities except in the way of worldly expediency, appealed to Tiglah-Pileser. In this he followed the precedent of his ancestor Asa, who had diverted the attack of Baasha by invoking the assistance of Syria. Ahaz sent to the Assyrian potentate the humble message, "I am thy servant and thy son: come up and save me from the Kings of Syria and Israel." If he had not faith to accept Isaiah’s promises, what else could he do, when Syria, Israel, the Philistines, Edom, and Moab were all arrayed against him? The ambassadors probably made their way, not without peril, along the east of Jordan, or else by sea from Joppa, and so inland. Whether they took with them the enormous bribe without which the appeal of the helpless king might have been in vain, or whether this was sent subsequently under Assyrian escort we do not know. It was euphemistically described as "a present" or "a blessing," but must be regarded either as a tribute or a bribe.

Tiglath-Pileser II saw his opportunity, and at once invaded Damascus. In B.C. 733 he failed, but the next year he entirely subjugated the kingdom, and put an end to the dynasty. Rezin was probably put to death with the horrible barbarites which were normal among the brutal Ninevites; and as the Assyrians had no conception of colonization or the wise government of dependencies, the Syrian population was deported en masse to Elam and an unknown Kir. For a time Damascus was made "a ruinous heap," and the cities of Aroer were the desolated lairs of pasturing flocks. Israel, as we have seen, was next overwhelmed by the same irremediable catastrophe, none of her people being left except such as might be compared to the mere gleanings of a vintage, and the few berries on the topmost boughs of the olive tree. {Isaiah 16:1-11}

Tiglath-Pileser meant to make Ahaz feel his yoke. He summoned him to do homage at Damascus, and there Ahaz once more displayed his cosmopolitan: estheticism at the expense of every pure tradition of the religion of his fathers.

His visit to Damascus was no doubt compulsory. His worldly policy, which looked so expedient, and which-apart from the defiance which it involved to the voice of God by His prophets-seemed to be so pardonable, had for the time succeeded. Isaiah’s promises had been fulfilled to the letter. There was nothing more to fear either from Rezin or from Remaliah’s son. Their kingdoms were a desolation. In his own annals Tiglath-Pileser does not exaggerate his achievements. He wrote as follows:-

"Rezin’s warriors I captured, and with the sword I destroyed.

Of his charioteers and [his horsemen] the arms I broke:

Their bow-bearing warriors, [their footmen] armed with spear and shield,

With my hand I captured them, and those that fought in their battle-line.

He to save his life fled away alone;

Like a deer [he ran], and entered into the great gate of his city."

"His generals, whom I had taken alive, on crosses hung;

His country I subdued;

Damascus, his city, I subdued, and like a caged bird I shut him in.

I cut down the unnumbered trees of his forest; I left not one.

Hadara, the palace of the father of Rezin of Syria, [I burnt].

The city of Samaria I besieged, I captured; eight hundred of its people and children I took;

Their oxen and their sheep I carried away.

I took five hundred and ninety-one cities;

Over sixteen districts of Syria like a flood I swept."

But the more complete destruction of Israel was due to Shalmaneser IV, who says, -

"The city of Samaria I besieged, I took,

I carried away twenty-seven thousand two hundred of its inhabitants;

I seized fifty of their chariots.

I gave up to plunder the rest of their possessions.

I appointed officers over them;

I laid on them the tribute of the former king.

In their place I settled the men of conquered countries."

The immediate service to Judah looked immense. The Assyrian might safely claim, and Ahaz might truthfully confess, that the intervention of Tiglath-Pileser had rescued him from the apparent imminence of destruction. But the Assyrian kings served no one for nothing. The price which had to be paid for Tiglath-Pileser’s intervention was vassalage and tribute. Ahaz, or, as the Assyrians call him, Jehoahaz, had styled himself Tiglath-Pileser’s "servant and his son," and the Assyrian chose to have substantial proof of this parental suzerainty. The great king therefore summoned the poor subject-potentate to Damascus, where he was holding his victorious court.

So far Ahaz had no reason to complain of his "dreadful patron"; and if he had returned when he paid his homage, no immediate harm would have happened. But during his visit he saw "the altar" (Heb.) at the conquered city. Was it the altar of the defeated Syrian god Rimmon? or did the Assyrian persuade his willing vassal to sacrifice at the portable altar of his god Assur? We may, perhaps, infer the former from 2 Chronicles 28:23, where Ahaz says: "Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me." There is room to suspect some error here, because Rezin had fallen, and Damascus was in ruins, and Rimmon had conspicuously failed to help or to avenge his votaries. Ahaz admired the altar, to whatever god it had been erected; and unmindful, or perhaps unconscious, that the altar of the Temple of Jerusalem was declared in the Pentateuch to have been divinely ordained-a fact to which the historian does not himself refer-he sent to the head priest Urijah a pattern of the altar which had struck his fancy at Damascus. The subservient priest, without a murmur or a remonstrance, undertook to have a similar altar ready for Ahaz in the Temple by the time of his return-a crime, if crime it were, which the Chronicler conceals. "Never any prince was so foully idolatrous," says Bishop Hall, "as that he wanted a priest to second him. An Urijah is fit to humour an Ahaz. Greatness could never command anything which some servile wits were not ready both to applaud and justify." Certainly we should have hoped for more fidelity to ancient tradition from a man who earned the approving word of Isaiah; but it is only fair and just to admit that Urijah, in the universal ignorance which prevailed about the codes which were afterwards collected and published as the total legislation of the wilderness, may have viewed his obedience to the king’s commands with very different eyes from those by which it was regarded in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ. He may have been frankly unaware that he was guilty of an act which would afterwards be denounced as an apostatising enormity.

When Ahaz returned, he was so much pleased with his new plaything that he at once acted as priest at his own new altar. Without the least opposition from the priests-who had so sternly resisted Uzziah-he offered burnt-offerings, and meat-offerings, and drink-offerings, and sprinkled the blood of peace-offerings on his altar. Not content with this, he did not hesitate to order the removal of the huge brazen altar from the position, in front of the Temple porch, which it had held since the days of Solomon. He did this in order that his own favorite altar might be in the line of vision from the court, and not be overshadowed by the old one, which he shifted from the place of honor to the north side. He proceeded to call his own altar "the great altar," and ordered that the morning burnt-offering, and the evening minchah, and all the principal sacrifices should henceforth be offered upon it. He did not wholly supersede the old brazen altar, which, he said, "shall be for me to inquire by," or, as the Hebrew may perhaps mean, "it should await"-i.e., "I will hereafter consider what to do with it."

Ahaz is charged with the additional crime of removing the ornamental festoons of bronze pomegranates from the layers, and the brazen oxen from under the molten sea, which henceforth lay dishonored, without its proper and splendid supports, on the pavement of the court. {1 Kings 7:23-39} He also took away the balustrade of the royal "ascent" from the palace to the Temple, and made a new entrance of a less gorgeous character than that which, in the days of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba had admired.

No doubt these proceedings helped to heighten the unpopularity of Ahaz. But what could he do? He could, indeed, if he had had sufficient faith, have "trusted in Jehovah," as Isaiah bade him do. But he was under the terrific pressure of hostile circumstances, and, being a weak and timid man, felt himself unable to resist the influence of the haughty politicians and worldly priests by whom he was surrounded-men who openly made Isaiah their scoff. When he invited the interposition of Tiglath-Pileser, all the other consequences of humiliation would naturally follow. He probably disliked as much as any one to see the great molten laver taken off the backs of the oxen which showed the skill of the ancient Hiram, and did not admire the despoiled aspect of the shrine of his capital. But if the King of Assyria or his emissaries had (as the historian implies) cast greedy eyes on these splendid objects of antiquity, the poor vassal could not refuse them. Better, he may have thought, that these material ornaments should go to Nineveh than that he should be forced to exact yet heavier burdens from an impoverished people. His expedient is mentioned among his crimes, yet no one blamed the pious Hezekiah when, under similar circumstances, he acted in precisely the same manner. {2 Kings 18:15-16}

The Chronicler gives a darker aspect to his misdoings by saying that he cut to pieces the vessels of the house of God, and made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem, and bamoth to burn incense unto other gods in every several city of Judah. He says, further, that he closed the great gates of the Temple; put an end to the kindling of the lamps, the burning of incense, and the daily offerings; and left the whole Temple to fall into rum and neglect. We know no more of him. He lived through an epoch marked by the final crisis in the existence of the kingdom of Israel. Dark omens of every kind were around him, and he seems to have been too frivolous to see them. If he plumed himself on the removal of the two relentless invaders Rezin and Pekah, he must have lived to feel that the terror of Assyria had come appreciably nearer. Tiglath-Pileser had only helped Judah in furtherance of his own designs, and his exactions came like a chronic distress after the acuter crisis. Nor was there any improvement when he died in 727. He was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV, and Shalmaneser IV by Sargon in 722, the year of the fall of Samaria. We know no more of Ahaz. The historian says that he was buried with his fathers, and the Chronicler adds, as in the case of Uzziah and other kings, that he was not permitted to rest in the sepulchers of the kings. He had sown the wind; his son Hezekiah had to reap the whirlwind.



745 Accession of Tiglath-Pileser.

746 Death of Uzziah. Accession of Jotham. First vision of Isaiah. {Isaiah 6:1-13}

735 Accession of Ahaz. Syro-Ephraimitish war.

734-732 Siege and capture of Damascus, and ravage of Northern Israel by Tiglath-Pileser. Visit of Ahaz to Damascus.

727 Accession of Shalmaneser IV

722 Accession of Sargon. Capture of Samaria, and captivity of the Ten Tribes.

720 Defeat of Sabaco by Sargon at Raphia.

715(?) Accession of Hezekiah.

711 Sargon captures Ashdod.

707 Sargon defeats Merodach-Baladan, and captures Babylon.

705 Murder of Sargon, Accession of Sennacherib.

701 Sennacherib besieges Ekron. Defeats Egypt at Altaqu. Invades Judah, and spares Hezekiah. Invades Egypt, and sends the Rabshakeh to Jerusalem. Disaster of Assyrians at Pelusinm, and disappearance from before Jerusalem.

697 Death of Hezekiah. Accession of Manasseh.

681 Death of Sennacherib.

608 Battle of Megiddo. Death of Josiah.

607 Fall of Nineveh and Assyria. Triumph of Babylon.

605 Battle of Carchemish. Defeat of Pharaoh Necho by Nebuchadrezzar.

509 First deportation of Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar.

588 Destruction of Jerusalem. Second deportation.

538 Cyrus captures Babylon.

536 Decree of Cyrus. Return of Zerubbabel and the first Jewish exiles.

458 Return of Ezra.

Verses 1-20


2 Kings 16:1-20

"Expediency is man’s wisdom; doing right is God’s."


ISAIAH was one of those men whom God provides for the need of kingdoms. He was not only a prophet, but a statesman, a reformer, a poet, a man of invincible faith and unequalled: insight. If Ahaz had accepted his counsels and followed his moral guidance, the whole history of Judah might have been different.

But the position of things was indeed disastrous. Judah was attacked from every side. On the southeast the Edomites renewed their devastating raids, and swept off multitudes of captives, who were sold as slaves in the Western slave-markets. On the southwest the Philistines once more rose in revolt, and acquired permanent repossession of many parts of the Shephelah mastering Beth-Shemesh Ajalon, Gederoth, Shocho, Timnath, Gimzo, and all the adjacent districts. But this was nothing compared with the humiliation and destruction inflicted by Rezin and Pekah. They shut up Ahaz in Jerusalem; and though they could not storm its almost impregnable defenses, which had recently been fortified by Uzziah and Jotham, they were undisputed masters of the rest of the land, so that Judah was "brought low and made naked." {2 Chronicles 28:19} Rezin, indeed, weary of a tedious siege, swept southwards to Elath, on the gulf of Akabah, seized it, and peopled it with an Edomite garrison, thereby destroying the commerce in which Solomon and Jehoshaphat had taken pride, and which Uzziah had recently re-established. Having thus left an effectual annoyance to Judah in his rear, he gave up the design of dethroning Ahaz and substituting in his place "the son of Tabeal, " who would have been a tool in the hands of the confederate kings. He seized, however, a multitude of captives, and with them and with much booty he returned to Damascus. "The son of Tabeal"-a name which occurs nowhere else-has been found very puzzling. I believe it to be simply an instance of the Rabbinic process of transposition, called Themourah. Some identify it with Itibi’alu of an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser. Others suppose that he was a Syrian, and that Tabeal stands for Tabrimmon. But by the application of Themourah (called the Albam) Tabeal simply gives us "Remaliah," and is either a scornful variation of the name of Pekah’s father, or has arisen from the watchword of a secret conspiracy. Since in the text of Jeremiah {; Jeremiah 41:1-18} (by Atbash, another form of the secret transposition of letters of which the generic name was Gematria) we read Sheshach for Babel, the name Tabeal may have been dealt with in a similar method. Pekah, according to the Chronicler, inflicted far deadlier injuries than Rezin. In one day he slew one hundred and twenty thousand "sons of valor," because they had forsaken Jehovah, God of their fathers. His general Zichri, a mighty Ephraimite, slew Maaseiah, the king’s son; {2 Chronicles 28:7} and Azrikam, the chancellor; and Elkanah, the second to the king. The army carried away two hundred thousand captives and much spoil to Samaria. But on their arrival, a prophet named Oded reproved the Israelites for having massacred the Judaeans "in a rage that reacheth to heaven." Aided by various princes, he succeeded in inducing the people to refuse to harbor the captives, and clothed, fed, and sent them back unharmed to Jericho, mounting the feeble on horses and asses. The story bears on the face of it the signs of enormous exaggeration.

In the crisis of their miseries, but just before the siege, Ahaz had gone outside the city walls "at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the causeway of the fuller’s field," probably to look after the water supply, which had always been a difficulty for Jerusalem, and on which depended her capacity to withstand a siege. Here he was met by the prophet Isaiah, who was leading by the hand the little son to whom he had given the name of "Shear-jashub" ("A renmant shall return"), as a witness to the truth of the prophecy which he had heard on the occasion of his call, -

"And if there should yet be a tenth in it, this shall be again consumed; yet as the terebinth and the oak, though cut down, have their stock remaining, even so a sacred seed shall be the stock thereof." {Isaiah 6:13}

The object of the prophet was to cheer up the fainting heart of the king, and to say to him first, -

"Take heed, and be quiet."

This mandate probably refers to rumors-which Isaiah must have heard-of the king’s intention to follow the counsels of the party which urged him to seek foreign assistance. One of these parties advised him to throw himself into the arms of Egypt, and rely on her protection; the other gave the more perilous counsel of invoking the aid of Assyria. Isaiah’s mandate to the king and to the nation was to take neither step, but to trust in the Lord, and to repent of individual and national misdoing. He summed up his message in the rule, -

"In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength."

The advice was emphasized by a promise of the most decisive and encouraging kind. When all looked so helpless, the prophet was bidden to say, -

"Fear not, neither be faint-hearted, for these two stumps of smoking torches, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of Remaliah’s son. They have taken evil counsel against thee. But thus saith the Lord God, ‘It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is only Rezin, and the head of Samaria is a mere Remaliah’s son."’

And then, to confirm the lesson of confidence in God, the brief assurance, -

"If ye will not confide, Surely ye shall not abide."

Convinced of the certainty of this immediate deliverance, Isaiah bade the king to ask for a sign from Jehovah, either in the height above, or in the depth beneath.

But the timid and hypocritical king was not so to be influenced. He had on his side "the scornful men, who ruled Judah"; the mocking priests, who sneered and jeered at Isaiah’s teaching as repetitive and commonplace, and only fit for children; and the princes and nobles, who formed the Court party, headed by Shebna the scribe. He probably looked on Isaiah as a mere unpractical faddist, an excited fanatic-all very well as a prophet, but not a man who ought to thrust himself into the plans of politicians. Ahaz had his own plans, and he had not the smallest intention of altering them in consequence of anything which Isaiah might say. He was far too timid and unfaithful to rely on anything so vague as Divine assurance. He was convinced that his only chance lay in the horses of Egypt or the fierce infantry of Assyria. So he said with sham piety, merely intended to put the prophet off, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah."

That moment marks what may be called the birth-throe of Messianic prophecy in its most specific character. For then the prophet, after reproving the king for wearying Jehovah as well as His servants, adds, in words of far wider arid deeper significance than their immediate bearing, that Jehovah Himself should give a sign; for the maiden should conceive and bear a Son, and call His name Immanuel ("God with us"). The child should grow up in a time of scarcity; for owing to the devastation of the land, he would only be able to be nurtured on curdled milk and honey. But before he had reached years of discretion-before he had arrived at the power of moral choice-the land whose two kings Ahaz abhorred should be a desert. Yet let not Ahaz exult too much in the immediate deliverance! Days of unexampled misery were at hand. Jehovah should hiss for the fly from the farthest canals of Egypt, and for the bee of Assyria, and they should settle in swarms in the valleys and pastures. Ahaz-he had not alluded to the design, but Isaiah knew it well-was about to hire a razor from beyond the Euphrates, but that razor should sweep away the hair and beard of Judah. Agriculture should languish, and the people should only be able to live in privation on whey and honey; and the vineyards should be full of briers and thorns, and should be mere places for hunting. {Isaiah 7:1-25}

This event, therefore, as Caspari says, stands at the turning-point of Old Testament History. It marks the beginning of that second period of the History of the Chosen People in which their hopes were granted as a counterpoise to their anguish and their humiliation. "It stood, therefore, at the point where a prospect offered itself to the eye of the prophet which reached out over the whole development of the people of God."

To all such prophecies Ahaz was utterly deaf: they did not for a moment induce him to swerve from his purpose. But to call still further attention to his promise as the Syrian Ephraimitish host pressed forward, Isaiah took a great piece of vellum, and inscribed on it, in the ordinary characters, -


He put it up in some conspicuous place, before his own house or in the Temple, and took the priest Urijah and Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah, into his confidence as faithful witnesses. He told them the explanation of his sign, and they would satisfy the curiosity of the people on the subject. It meant that in nine months’ time his wife should bear a son, and that he and his wife, the prophetess, would call the boy’s name "Speed-plunder-haste-spoil," as a sign that before the child was able to say "Father" or "Mother" Rezin and Pekah should be extinguished. For the Assyrian should speed to the plunder and haste to the spoil, and the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria should be carried away by the King of Assyria. Since Judah despised "the soft flowing waters of Shi-loah," and preferred Rezin and Pekah, they should be deluged by the Euphrates of Assyria, and Assyria’s outspread wings should overshadow thy land, O Immanuel (Isaiah 8:1-8). How vain, then, of the people to try and meet the confederacy of Syria and Ephraim by a new confederacy of Judah with Assyria! This, after all, is Immanuel’s land. God is with us. We have but to fear God, we have but to be faithful to duty, and Jehovah shall be our sanctuary, though He be a stumbling-block to many in Israel, and a snare to many in Jerusalem. This is God’s teaching and God’s testimony, and Isaiah and his children are signs of it. For does not Isaiah mean "Salvation of Jehovah"; and Shearjashub, "A remnant shall return"; and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, "Swift-spoil-speedy-prey"; and Immanuel, "God is with us"? What need, then, to seek wizards and necromancers? Seek God; confide, abide! Trouble and darkness there should be; but all was not utterly hopeless. Northern Israel had been bedimmed and afflicted; but soon they should be exalted, and see light, and their yoke be broken as in the day of Midian, and the trampling boot and blood-stained mantle of the war-nor shall be burned in the fire: for a Child is born, a Son is given unto us of David’s line, who shall be a Mighty Deliverer, a Prince of Peace and Israel shall perish.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 16". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/2-kings-16.html.
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