Hazael, the nemesis of Israel (2 Kings 8)

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Hazael’s usurpation of the throne of Damascus is described in 2 Kings 8:7-15, but the Biblical writers were not the only ones who recognized that he had no rightful claim to the throne. In 1903 German excavators unearthed the Basalt Statue of Shalmaneser III, which contains a short inscription boasting of this Assyrian king’s victories over the king of Damascus (Syria). After briefly describing how he had defeated a coalition led by one “Adad-idri” of Damascus (probably Ben-Hadad II), Shamaneser III recounted how “Hazael the son of a nobody” (i.e. usurper) had taken the throne. Shalmaneser then claimed to have defeated Hazael in battle, to have pursued him back to Damascus and to have laid waste his orchards.

Hazael himself seems to have sought to shake off the label of usurper. In some texts known as the “booty inscription”, Hazael claimed that the god Hadad had given him military victories and the booty that went with them. If the Tel Dan inscription is from Hazael, as seems probable, he did the same there. Hazael was perhaps suggesting that the god Hadad had endorsed his seizure of the throne. More significantly, in the Tel Dan inscription he referred to Ben-Hadad, whom he had murdered, as “my father”. This was a bold claim to legitimacy indeed!

Haomrizael reigned from approximately 842 to 800 B.C. Almost immediately after seizing power he went to war against Joram of Israel, whom he defeated at Ramoth Gilead. This action, in which Joram was wounded, led to Jehu’s coup in Israel and to the fall of the house of Omri (2 Kings 9). From 841 to 836 Hazael was involved in wars against Shalmaneser III, as described in the Basalt Statue. Once the pressure from Assyria in the east had abated, Hazael was free to turn his attention south against Israel (10:32-33), Judah and Philistia (12:17-18). Hazael apparently died near the end of the reign of Jehoahaz of Israel (ca. 805-802 B.C.), but he remained Israel’s nemesis to the end (13:22). Indeed, Hazael nearly succeeded in eliminating Israel entirely as a military power (13:7).


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