Thoughts on 2 Chronicles 17-19

2 Chronicles 17‑19  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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Although the last days of Asa were evil, and the cloud hanging over Judah was darkening, yet there is a gleam of brightness during his son's reign. Under Jehoshaphat rule the fear of the Lord fell on the surrounding nations, for the Lord established his kingdom. Judah brings presents, and he has riches and honor in abundance. He sends instructors with the book of the law of the Lord, and they go throughout all the cities of Judah, and teach the people. Moreover some of the Philistines and Arabians bring presents and flocks. Jehoshaphat waxed exceedingly great and had mighty men of war and of valor in Jerusalem. It might have seemed to the few godly ones a return of the golden days of Solomon.
Alas! Jehoshaphat is no exception to the universal frailty and ingratitude of man. When he had riches and honor in abundance, he joined affinity with Ahab. This is a still lower step than Asa's seeking help from Benhadad. For it ignores the sin of Israel's rebellion against the house of David, and against the Lord God of Israel. Jehoshaphat seemed indifferent to Israel's worship of Jeroboam's calves, and of their forsaking of the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem. Jeroboam dared to disestablish and heathenize the national religion, the worship of Jehovah, and it is distinctively called his sin.
Christians now may view unperturbed “legal disestablishment “; for we are called to separation from the world and from its things, earthly establishments among them. For it was the religious establishment of the world that rejected Christ. In that day worshippers were not called to separation from the world, although from its sins and evil then as now, but now much more, are we called to separation from the world, as a system. For we are transformed into another sphere, a sphere of light and life, anew creation, separated from the old which God is going to destroy, though He bear long with it. No nation could commit a deadlier sin than to disestablish by human law, what God had set up by divine law. “Legal disestablishment” is now agitating men's minds: how does Jeroboam's sin bear upon what may be in this country? God often, if not constantly, judges man upon his own ground, it may be a man or it may be a nation. Take as an instance the man who had one pound given to him. Out of his own mouth he is condemned.
Ahab walked in the steps of Jeroboam; now to join affinity, with such is, if possible, more offensive to Jehovah, than to forget God and seek help from the Syrian. Besides, Asa was evidently afraid of Baasha. On a former occasion God had delivered him and sent His prophet to encourage him; why should he fear? This fear in no way condones or excuses his sin which was a practical denial of the Lord God of Israel. But however great the sin of Asa, that of Jehoshaphat is much greater. Not fear of a Gentile enemy led him to join with Ahab, for at that time he was rich, powerful and prosperous. Perhaps it was all these that led him to forget God, and to seek alliance with Judah's former enemy and with the haters of God. Jehoshaphat is called a good king, yet in this he is leading Judah away from God. But what will not good men do when they forget God?
He may have reasoned that although. Israel had forsaken the Lord and His temple, they were as much the children of Abraham as themselves, and where then the evil of affinity with them? Possibly kindness and friendship might win some of them back to the temple in Jerusalem, whereas to avoid and shun them would only strengthen their hatred. Something like this kind of plea is used now by those who, having professedly forsaken the world, look with a lingering eye upon the things they had seemed. to condemn. Jehoshaphat condemned idolatry yet made affinity with it. But how did the prophet rebuke him on returning to his house, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly and love them that hate the Lord” (19:2)?
This was a phase of sin not contemplated in Solomon's prayer; for that supposes the people, though sinful and therefore suffering, yet acknowledging outwardly the authority and rule of Jehovah, to Whom if they cried, He would grant deliverance. But how could that be when allied to the haters of the Lord? In how short a time after the responsibility of maintaining the worship of Jehovah was laid upon man, how quickly all seems forgotten! beginning with Solomon's idolatry and Rehoboam's consequent folly; and now Asa seeking help from the Gentile, and Jehoshaphat's alliance with Ahab, with an apostate. But he did not worship the calves. No, but he sought the friendship of one who did, and so became a partaker of his sin.
The Corinthians are warned not to mingle the Lord's table with the table of demons. Was not Jehoshaphat, as it were, mingling the temple worship with that of the calves of Jeroboam i.e. with demons? as far as possible in that day, doing what the Corinthians were warned against.
It was no extenuation, but rather an aggravation of the sin of the ten tribes that they were Abraham's seed, and they were far worse than the heathen around them. But what is Judah's condition before the Lord at this moment? They were cleaving professedly to the house of David and to the temple of the Lord, but practically allied with a rebel and an idolater. This was to be deeper sunk in iniquity than even Israel; and yet there are depths lower.
Does this bear no very distant analogy to something nearer our own time? Do Christians now in this day join themselves to idols? Certainly not to Jeroboam’s calves; but everything which takes precedence of the Person of Christ is an idol. Even the church of God, beloved as it is, if its blessedness, if the “one body and one Spirit,” become a shibboleth and displace in ever so small a measure and occupy in our heart that supreme place which belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ, then the church becomes an idol. If an evangelist thinks and aims more at popularity, i.e. preaching himself and not the Lord, his preaching, blessed work as that is and God's means for the saving of souls, that too becomes an idol. In fact every soul, believing or not, that has not Christ as the supreme Object of his affections, is to that extent an idolater. So that idolatry is not limited to the bowing to an image of gold, or of wood; the idol may be only, but really, in the imagination. There is constant but pressing need of our remembering the apostle's words “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
Jehoshaphat's connection with Ahab was not to his honor, and how disastrous to his son, who married Ahab's daughter! the consequence doubtless of the friendship between the two kings. Jehoshaphat is entangled in Ahab's quarrels; still in his heart there is a feeling of what is due to the Lord, and he will not join Ahab against Ramoth Gilead without consulting a prophet of the Lord. Micaiah said enough to have dissuaded him from joining Ahab in that enterprise. Evidently he had determined his own course, and wanted the Lord to sanction it. Micaiah's solemn word did not deter him; besides, he had pledged his kingly words, “I am as thou art, and my people as thy people, and we will be with thee in the war” (the people are linked with the king for good or evil), and he would not withdraw from it. A false notion of their word of honor has led others since then into the path of evil, sometimes irreparably; but the merciful Lord interposes for His own, notwithstanding their perverseness. Unmingled justice would have allowed Jehoshaphat to feel the full effect of his folly, but mercy triumphed; in his danger he cried to the Lord, and he is delivered and returns to his house in peace. But the Lord's reproof comes after His mercy. The prophet armed with the sword—the word—of the Lord meets him, and with the words as of indignant surprise, says “Shouldst thou help the ungodly? &c.” And here is a solemn word, important teaching, that Israel though truly of the seed of Abraham, were yet haters of the Lord. And this read in the light of the New Test, tells us that, whatever our privilege—the greater, the more responsible—if Christ be not supreme in our affections, we are so far haters of God. This may seem harsh to some, but we must bow to the truth of God. If Christ is exalted above every name in heaven, and He is worthy, so He must have the highest place in our heart. And to reign there is neither to give nor to seek friendship with the world, nor with those who bring not the doctrine of Christ i.e. the Christ of God. This is the only true measure of separation from the world and the world's religions.
A different scene now opens, and Jehoshaphat becomes another man. Moab, Ammon, and others come against him: he is afraid but seeks not Benhadad's aid nor yet to strengthen himself by an unholy alliance, but in the midst of the congregation he stood and prayed (his true place) and pleads the promise of God, and touches the right chord when he says, “Thy possession which Thou hast given us to inherit.” The answer is immediate. The Spirit of the Lord came upon one of the sons of Asaph, and they are told not to fear; that the Lord would fight for them, that it was His battle, not theirs. “Ye shall not need to fight in this battle, set yourselves, stand ye still and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem; fear not nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them, for the Lord will be with you” (20: 17). It was a wondrous battle, truly the Lord's. The Lord set ambushments; who or what these were, we are not told. Judah was to stand still and see how wondrously the Lord would fight for them. Judah goes forth with songs and then stands still while the Ammonites destroy the inhabitants of (those who came from) Mount Seir, and after that, “every one helped to destroy another.” So that, when Judah came to the field, not of battle, but of slaughter, they found only dead bodies.
Compare this battle and the destruction of the enemy with the battle fought by the side of Ahab where Jehoshaphat narrowly escaped, where his ally was slain. He was brought home in peace, but not with honor. Nor in this is there any honor for Jehoshaphat; the honor is the Lord's. The king and Judah stand still. It was the same mighty arm that overthrew Pharaoh in the Red Sea; then, Israel was told to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Israel was thee a helpless multitude, a crowd of men, women and children; now it is the soldiers that are told to stand still, “ye shall not need to fight.” And why are they not allowed to fight? Ah, he who had not long before joined affinity with Ahab was not in a condition to enjoy the honors of a victory. The Lord must do it all Himself, for the king cannot be used as an instrument of deliverance.
How many saints now through past unwatchfulness and failure are in a somewhat like position! Safely preserved from the foe according to the sovereign grace and purpose of God, but there is no contending manfully with enemies. This privilege and honor is for the faithful, for the strong and valiant. For the righteous government and discipline of God must be maintained in the church now as in Judah then; and this as well as His grace found in every time of need. The weak and even the failing are kept safely, while the faithful engage in the battle. But when all fail in steadfastness, what then? The Lord Himself fights His people's battles, and they stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, but they have no honor in overcoming. What mercy! what shame to us! and what part can we have in the many promises to the overcomer? (Rev. 2; 3)