Lectures on 2 Chronicles 21-25

 •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 8
We have seen, then, the sad fruits of a pious man joining himself with one who is untrue to God-a union which always turns to God's dishonor and the injury of him who loves God, as we find in Jehoshaphat himself. And this too, not merely in that he united with Ahaziah, but where he united even for commercial purposes—one of the most important points for a saint, not only for a Christian, but for a saint before Christianity, where his testimony was separation to God. But the separation of a Christian is of another order—higher and deeper and closer, yet not so external as the Jews. We might even feel at liberty—as we know the apostle puts the case—to dine with an infidel. “If thou be disposed to go” —we must take care how we go, and why. Now, this might, to the outward eye, seem the very contrary of separateness, and many mistakes are often made in the thoughts of men who judge by outward appearance. But the separation of a Christian is really deeper, although it may not strike the eye as a Jew's. We shall see further proofs of the same evil, for it was a growing one, as the state of Judah became worse and worse before its judgment.
Jehoshaphat's son, Jehoram, reigns in his father's stead. “Now when Jehoram was risen up to the kingdom, he strengthened himself, and slew all his brethren with the sword” (21:4). Such did not Jehoshaphat. Howbeit, although he went even farther than his father in alliance with evil— “for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife and he wrought [that which was] evil in the eyes of Jehovah— “yet, “Jehovah would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David.” Hence, therefore, we find that when the Edomites revolted, and Jehoram went forth, he smote them. Nevertheless God chastised him, for “the same time did Libnah revolt from under his hand, because he had forsaken Jehovah God of his fathers.”
We see in all this history how much turns upon the king. It was no question of the people now, for they had completely failed long ago. There is a new trial. Suppose the blessing turns upon—not the people, for, it might be said, there are enormous probabilities against their fidelity, but take the family of a faithful man: take the family of the most faithful man in the deep distresses of evil, David, the progenitor of the Messiah—perhaps, if it turns upon that family one might be found faithful! Not so: there is faithlessness everywhere. There was only one faithful witness, and He was not yet come; but those who preceded Him and who ought to have been the witnesses of the coming Messiah in truth, only precipitated the downfall, first, of Israel as a whole, then of Judah that remained. Hence, Jehoram, we find, “made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah [thereto].” For this was part of the wickedness of heathenism—that it made men more immoral than they would have been on principle and as a matter of honor to their gods.
God sent him now a writing from Elijah the prophet saying, “Thus saith Jehovah God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father's house; which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will Jehovah smite thy people and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou [shalt have], great sickness.” And so he was to die, and outward troubles came upon him. “Jehovah stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and of the Arabians.” In fine, “Jehovah smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease,” and thus he died. “And his people made no burning for him like the burning of his fathers.” He had gone on in sin, and he died in sorrow and shame. Such was the end of a son of David, really and literally the son of Jehoshaphat ("Jehovah is judge").
“And the inhabitants of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, his youngest son, king in his stead” (chap. 22.). And “he reigned,... he also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab.” His mother was that infamous Athaliah, the daughter of Omri. “His mother was his counselor to do wickedly.” “He walked also after their counsel, and went with Jehoram, the son of Ahab, king of Israel to war.” That is, the first evil begun by a pious king continues. The practice of his son is far from pious, for the bad example of a good man has immense influence, especially with those who are not good. It hardens them, and works therefore deep and ineradicable mischief. “The destruction of Ahaziah was of God,” as we are told, “by coming to Joram: for when he was come, he went out with Jehoram against Jehu.” And thus he came under the same judgment.
Athaliah, in resentment, now enters upon a most cruel project—the destruction of the seed royal, for she was an idolatress, and she hated the word and the purpose of God. Who but she could have done it so well, for she had all power, apparently, and she had no conscience. Nay, further, hatred and bitterness filled her heart against the true God and the house of David, although she was herself a mother of that house; but, still, what will not hatred of God do in reversing all the affections of nature.
So Athaliah, when she saw that her son was dead, “arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah.” But God watched her and led Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, to take Joash, a child, from among the king's sons that were slain, and secretly bring him up. “And he was with them hid in the house of God six years,” just as the Lord Jesus is now taken away from the midst of the wicked people who slew Him. For it was not merely a murderous intent as against Joash, but the Lord, as we know, was crucified by the hands of lawless men, and now He is hid in the house of God; but He will as surely come forth from that hiding place as Joash did.
When the seventh year came—the complete time according to the ways of God— “in the seventh year Jehoiada strengthened himself” (chap. 23). He was the priest. The priest is prominent while the king is hidden. How truly it is so now in our Lord's case, in His own person combining both the high priest that is in action, and the king that will be by and by. And then in this chapter we have further, the most animated picture of this stirring scene—the young king now seated on his throne when the due moment was come. The trusty servants that were prepared by the high priest, and—finally, the last of her, the murderous queen-mother, king-destroyer, Athaliah, and the jubilant cries of Israel. When she comes forth, she comes forth crying “Treason,” but in truth it was she who had been guilty of both treason and murder to the full: but we see the purpose of God. There cannot be a more lively proof of how thoroughly we may trust Him, for never seemed a more helpless object than this young king Joash before Athaliah. Never were the fortunes of a king of Judah at a lower ebb; but men have said not untruly that “man's extremity is God's opportunity.” “This only furnishes the occasion to show the supremacy of God. Nothing can hinder His purpose. How truly, therefore, we should trust Him as well as His purpose. He has a purpose about us and He Himself has a love to our souls. Why should we not always trust Him?
If Joash was brought thus prosperously to the throne through a sea of royal blood, and if judgment inaugurate the judgment of enemies, and if idolatry was put down, and if all now was apparently so bright and hopeful for the king of Judah, it was but for a passing season. “And Joash did what was right in the sight of Jehovah all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (chap. 24.). Yes, but it was more the influence of Jehoiada than faith in the living God. An influence, sooner or later, must fail. The influence of man is not the faith of God's elect.
Jehoiada then passes away, after that the king had called him to task; for such was his zeal for a little while. Flesh may be even more zealous than faith, but then there is this difference—faith continues, the effort of flesh is transient. It may begin well; but the question is whether it continues. Its continuance is always the grand proof of what is divine. Joash did not continue according to his beginnings; for we are told that after his fair effort in behalf of the neglected repairs of the house of Jehovah, he relaxed, though this is given more elsewhere than here. But here, even, we find the influences, the malignant influences of the princes of Judah. “The king hearkened unto them,” it is said, after the death of Jehoiada. “And they left the house of Jehovah, God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass.” Nevertheless, God still testified by His prophets, and more particularly by Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest. “And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones, at the commandment of the king.”
What ingratitude What perfidy towards the son of his own near relative and the guardian of his own life “Thus Joash the king,” says the Spirit of God most touchingly, “remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died he said, Jehovah look upon it and require it.” And so He did, for “it came to pass at the end of the year that the host of Syria came up against him, and they came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the princes of the people from among the people, and, sent all the spoil of them unto the king of Damascus. For the army of the Syrians came with a small company of men.” It was not, therefore, might or power: it was God. “And Jehovah delivered a very great host into their hand, because they had forsaken the Jehovah God of their fathers.” What was a host against Jehovah guiding His people; but, now, even a small company overwhelms the great host. of Judah. “So they executed judgment against. Joash.” Nor was this all, for he was left in great disease, and his own servants conspired against him who had shed the blood of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, and they “slew him on his bed, and he died: and they buried him in the city of David but they buried him not in the sepulchers of the kings.”
Thus, we see a downward progress. In, the former case they, made no burning for Jehoram, as they did for his fathers. Now, they do not even bury Joash in the sepulchers of the kings. And if God gives the names of the conspirators it was not that he had any complacency in them, though their act might not be without righteous judgment. He lets us know that they were those who had not the feeling of, Israel, but the heart of an enemy under an Israelitish name; for Zabad was the son of Shimeath an Ammonitess, and Jehozabad the son of Shimrith a Moabitess. On the mother's side the stock was evil; and a mother has enormous influence for good or evil.
Amaziah follows. “And he did that which was right in the sight of Jehovah, but not with a perfect heart” (chap. 25.). “Now it came to pass when the kingdom was established to him, that he slew his servants that had killed the king, his father. But he slew not their children, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, where Jehovah commanded, saying, The fathers shall not die for the children, neither shall the children die for the fathers, but every man shall die for his own sin. Moreover, Amaziah gathered Judah together, and made them captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds.” Thus he strengthened himself after a human sort. He also had a hired army. Mercenaries served him—a strange thing for a king of Judah. “But there came a man of God to him, saying, O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee.” For these mercenaries were Israel. How fallen were both—Judah to hire, and Israel to be hired. The only thing they agreed in was indifference to God. What a state for God's people, and do you suppose that it is a strange thing?
Do you suppose that it is different now? Do you think that Christendom is in a better state as Christendom, than Israel was then as Israel? I do not believe so. We, all of us, feel that the ancient bodies are fallen into idolatry—not more truly Israel into the worship of the calves and of Baal, and all the other abominations, than Greek church or Roman into the worship, the one of pictures, and the other of images. What difference? Both are idols; equally idols. But it is not merely so; but if the word of God be possessed (as thanks be to God it is,) in Protestantism, if not in the same way in the older bodies, nevertheless denominationalism has eaten out the heart of the children of God, and their energies go forth in mere efforts, benevolent, excellent; but meanwhile the glory of God is unthought of. It is work now, not Christ; or if there be a thought it hardly ever goes beyond the salvation of souls. The glory of God and those that are saved are forgotten. It is not only that we need, therefore, a call to the unconverted; we need a call to the converted now It is they more especially that fail to answer to the glory of God, just as Judah did here.
And here we find them joining, and this is one of the greatest snares of the present day. People fancy such wonders are to be done because there is a desire after union. Yes, but a union with abominations, a union with infidelity, a union with sacerdotalism, a union with anything under the sun, provided people only unite in good faith. Where is God? Where is the truth? Where is the grace of God? Where is the place of the Holy Ghost in all this? Not thought of. I say this only because I believe that many persons read these books of scripture without practical profit; or if they do take any, they fasten upon merely the good points, forgetting that God has a question about the evil; and in a day of evil it is a bad sign to flatter ourselves that we are cleaving to the good, for invariably where there is evil there must be repentance, and there cannot be a worse sign than putting off, therefore, the solemn lesson that God is reading us about sin. I do not say that to throw it at others, but to take my full share myself, because I am fully persuaded that where there is the strongest desire, even, to be separated from evil there will be the deepest feeling of the evil. There was nobody who felt the evil of Israel so much its Daniel, though there was no one who was more personally separate from it. And yet he always says “we.” He does not say “you.” He does not say “It is your sin,” but “our sin.” It is “we have sinned.” He held to the unity of the people of God. We ought to hold to the unity of the church.
To give you an idea of what the testimony of God now is in the world, I will only mention one circumstance of a pious man in the East—the celebrated Henry Martin, a devoted laborer for the Lord, though with not very much light, but a man who loved the Lord and loved His word, and devoted himself heartily to it, to the shame of many a one who has more light. When Henry Martin was in Persia the teachers would not believe that he was a Christian. They said he could not be because he neither drank nor swore. Their idea of a Christian was a man who drank and swore, and Henry Martin, being a thoroughly pious and godly person, could not be, in their judgment, a Christian. Well, I only mention this to show what a character Christianity and Christians and Christ have got in the Eastern world. Do you think that nothing? God thinks a great deal of it. We may distinguish and say, “These drunkards and swearers are not true Christians.” But still they are baptized, still they go to church or chapel, still they bear the name of Christ—perhaps, even, are called in sometimes to support the missionaries, and therefore what can the Persians think but that these are Christians? Now, I say, we ought to feel the shame of that: we ought to feel the bitter ness of it.
And so, in the same; way, it is no use for people to say, “I have nothing to do with Popery: I have nothing to do with the Greek church: I have nothing to do with Ritualism or the like. That is an improper way to speak. We have a great deal to do with them, because all this is done under the name of Christ. It is like a vast company that has got a common share, and we are partners in the firm unless, indeed, we cut the connection; that is, unless we renounce utterly all the shame and sin of the thing before God, but, at the same time bear the burden of it. Suppose we have renounced the company in matters of action, we ought to feel the shame and the grief of it, if we have any love in our souls for them, or any care for the glory of the Lord. I conceive, therefore, that those who read these sad tales of Israel's, and, above all, of Judah's sin, without making a personal application to Christendom—to the state of God's people now—are putting aside a most solemn admonition that God gives for the conscience, and a sign and token, too, of the analogy between what is now and what was then. The only difference is that we have incomparably greater privileges and, therefore, a deeper responsibility.
Further, the word of God is explicit that the Lord Jesus is about to return in judgment, and when He does judge where will His sternest judgment be? On the heathen? On the Jew? No, on Christendom! I grant you that Jerusalem will be the scene of the tremendous judgment of God; but then Jerusalem was the birthplace of Christianity as well as the capital of Judaism; and I have not the slightest doubt that at that moment when the Lord returns in judgment the same men will have acquired headship over Christendom as well as over the Jews. Things are coming to that now. Ritualism will soon land Christendom into acknowledgment of Judaism. What an amalgam A hateful amalgam, not merely an amalgam of unfaithful Christians, but even of Judaism along with Christianity, because the false prophet who is destroyed at the end will be setting himself up in the temple of God, and will be acknowledged in Christendom as well as by the Jews. This is a tremendous catastrophe to look onward to, and I have no doubt of it; and this shows, therefore, how truly the wickedness of Israel portends also, not only their future wickedness, but that which is found in Christendom. All will be united in this dreadful union at the close.
Well, then, this 25th chapter shows us the end, of Amaziah after this unholy union with Israel—bought to their own shame, but to his greater shame who could employ them; and the end is strife between the two who had unlawfully joined. And further, Judah, who ought to have been the more faithful, as they had the truth in a way that Israel had not, are put to flight before the men of Israel.
What confusion when God was obliged to be against His people—when God was morally compelled to smite even those who had most of His sympathies, but now the more guilty, just because they had more light!
[W.K.]