For some reason, I cannot help but remember this Bible passage from the 35th chapter of 2 Chronicles when I think of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reports that he is pressing for some kind of unilateral Israeli military attack on Iran, possibly to influence the U.S. election:
(20) After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates and Josiah went out to meet him. (21) But he sent envoys to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.” (22) Nevertheless, Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. (23) And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” (24) So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in his second chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. And he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. (25) Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments. (2 Chronicles 35:2-25, ESV)
There is no obvious analogy to draw — Egypt was not at war or even actively hostile to Judah in the Bible account, while Iran is actively hostile to Israel, and Iran’s resources and reach were nothing compared to that of Egypt’s at the time.
Except that what strikes me here is the portrayal of King Josiah of Judah’s absolute recklessness. He need not have picked a fight with Pharaoh Neco (who ended up choosing several of his successors, according to the Chronicles account). In many ways, this is a stunning account. (The version in 2 Kings lacks the detail, merely saying that Josiah joined battle with Neco at Megiddo as the Egyptian army was on its way to do battle with Assyria.) Josiah was the good king — the priest Hilkiah finds and reads the
Book of Moses, and Josiah leads the people of Judah in repenting, celebrating the passover in a way it had not been kept
… in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a passover as was kept by Josiah… (2 Chronicles 35:18, ESV)
So, far all his adherence to the covenant (something I don’t credit Netanyahu with either), the account that Josiah rode out at the head of his army to fight Egypt when no fight was needed, when the Pharaoh of Egypt wondered what was itching Josiah’s so that he had to wage war, and that the voice of Pharaoh was the voice of God telling him to go home — those are big deals in this account. Josiah was so itching to fight Egypt that he “disguised himself” (“donned [his armor] to fight him” in the JPS Tanakh) to lead his army out to fight. That’s strange behavior for a good king, one who understood the importance of the teaching of Moses and the right worship of God.
That’s what makes me think of Benjamin Netanyahu right now. I’ve never liked the man, not since he was Israel’s spokesman in the United States in the early 1990s. I’ve never met him. But he seems to me like the kind of man who would pick a fight, a senseless and stupid fight, without any appreciation of the consequences. And he’d even work hard at picking that fight. Simply to fight.
Big difference, though. If he picks a fight, he won’t die on that battlefield.