Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab.The Advantage of an Indirect Aim
2 Chronicles 18:33
I. The story connected with this passage is a very suggestive one. Ahab, King of Israel, was regarded by the righteous as the enemy of God, and by all classes as the enemy of man. Elaborate plans were laid to put down his influence. These all failed. Every effort to arrest his baleful hand proved abortive. A whole army tried it. They directed all their arrows toward the one man; but they all missed him. At last a strange thing happened. An obscure soldier in that army was trifling with his time—shooting an arrow to amuse himself. The trifle became a tragedy. The shot meant for the air struck the enemy of righteousness; he fell, and died.
II. The event came from a hand that was not seeking it, from an act that was not designing it. It is no uncommon experience. How often you and I get without effort a thing for whose acquisition we have striven long and vainly! It seems at the last to come to our very door. You remember a name when you have ceased to search for it, when you have begun to think of something else. You exert an influence when you have given up trying to do so, when you have left your friend severely alone.
III. I do not think anxiety to achieve an end is favourable to its achievement. I am quite sure that all anxiety about a merely personal aim diverts the arrow from the goal. When God promised Abraham a great kingdom, He added, 'In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed'. He was to get the former by shooting at the latter. I have never, known a man to win physical success by making physical success the direct object of his aim. The mark of the worldly prize is hit by aiming at something different. David sang to the woods ere he was overheard by kings. The broken box of ointment filled with its fragrance the house of humanity; yet it was meant but for one head. The arrow that strikes the mark of eternal fame is the arrow that aims at the welfare of the hour.
—G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 273.
2 Chronicles 18:33
The best things in life are secured without seeking. The noblest prizes are won without striving. There are certain things that we never get by aiming at them. Pursue these things and they elude your grasp, but go on doing your humble duty and they present themselves to you unsought. That is what the Bishop of Ripon calls 'the Jaw of indirectness,' and it is a law of the spiritual life.
A whole army was out for the specific purpose of killing one bad man, the King of Israel. Every arrow was directed against one man and they all missed him. At last a soldier drew a bow at a venture, and that random shot smote the king so that he died. The object of the army was attained by an obscure and unknown soldier.
I. The law of indirectness holds good in the secular realm. There is, it may be admitted, a poor lookout for the man like Mr. Micawber, who is waiting for something to turn up. Strenuous effort is necessary for success. One of Sir Walter Raleigh's friends, when asked to explain the weight and width of his learning, replied that he could toil terribly. At the same time certain high distinctions come to those who do not seek them. The poet and the artist must cultivate the whole soul and mind if great achievements are to be won. We become masters by not seeking directly to be masters, but by trying to be good servants. The unscrupulous man does sometimes flourish in this world like a green bay-tree, but for the patient and honest worker, though success may be slow in coming, it seldom fails to come at last.
II. The Spiritual Realm. 1. We may apply the principle of the text to the great prize of happiness—what Robert Louis Stevenson calls the great task of happiness. For many people happiness is the end of all their striving and, because they aim at it, they miss it If you want to be happy do not seek to be happy, seek rather to do your duty. John Stuart Mill said those only fire happy who have their minds fixed on some other object than their own happiness. All experience teaches the lesson that the men who make pleasure their aim never get it. The professed pleasure-seeker is, as a rule, a most abject person. There is only one pessimistic book in the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes. It contains the confessions of a pleasure-seeker. The result in his case was self-loathing and despair. Remember the words of Carlyle in Sartor: 'Love not pleasure, love God. This is the everlasting Yea wherein all contradiction is solved, wherein whoso walks and works it is well with him.'
2. Honour. Many long to win the prize of honour, but honour does not come to the man who seeks it; he may gain honours, a very different thing. The world never honours the self-seeker. The men whom it honours are a David Livingstone, a Shaftesbury, a General Booth. Heaven has no honour for the self-seeker, to aim at glory is to miss it. The man who uses his religion to gain a reputation receives all the reward he will ever get down here.
3. Life. Human experience teaches further that life itself, in the fullest sense, is won not by those who seek to save it but by those who are ready to fling it away. Self-culture was the motto of the Greeks, self-sacrifice is the motto of the Christian. Both are seeking life, but it is only the Christian who can win it. Selfishness is the death of the soul, sacrifice its meat and its life. Our Lord Himself is enthroned today in the affections of millions because He gave His life for the life of the world.
—J. D. Jones.
References.—XIX. 1-11.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Kings, Chronicles, etc., p. 165.
And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead.
And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war.
And Jehoshaphat said unto the king of Israel, Inquire, I pray thee, at the word of the LORD to day.
Therefore the king of Israel gathered together of prophets four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall we go to Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for God will deliver it into the king's hand.
But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might inquire of him?
And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, by whom we may inquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil: the same is Micaiah the son of Imla. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.
And the king of Israel called for one of his officers, and said, Fetch quickly Micaiah the son of Imla.
And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah sat either of them on his throne, clothed in their robes, and they sat in a void place at the entering in of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them.
And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah had made him horns of iron, and said, Thus saith the LORD, With these thou shalt push Syria until they be consumed.
And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king.
And the messenger that went to call Micaiah spake to him, saying, Behold, the words of the prophets declare good to the king with one assent; let thy word therefore, I pray thee, be like one of theirs, and speak thou good.
And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, even what my God saith, that will I speak.
And when he was come to the king, the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go to Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And he said, Go ye up, and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand.
And the king said to him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou say nothing but the truth to me in the name of the LORD?
Then he said, I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master; let them return therefore every man to his house in peace.
And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would not prophesy good unto me, but evil?
Again he said, Therefore hear the word of the LORD; I saw the LORD sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left.
And the LORD said, Who shall entice Ahab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one spake saying after this manner, and another saying after that manner.
Then there came out a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will entice him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith?
And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the LORD said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so.
Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil against thee.
Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near, and smote Micaiah upon the cheek, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee?
And Micaiah said, Behold, thou shalt see on that day when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself.
Then the king of Israel said, Take ye Micaiah, and carry him back to Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king's son;
And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I return in peace.
And Micaiah said, If thou certainly return in peace, then hath not the LORD spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, all ye people.
So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramothgilead.
And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and will go to the battle; but put thou on thy robes. So the king of Israel disguised himself; and they went to the battle.
Now the king of Syria had commanded the captains of the chariots that were with him, saying, Fight ye not with small or great, save only with the king of Israel.
And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, It is the king of Israel. Therefore they compassed about him to fight: but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; and God moved them to depart from him.
For it came to pass, that, when the captains of the chariots perceived that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back again from pursuing him.
And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness: therefore he said to his chariot man, Turn thine hand, that thou mayest carry me out of the host; for I am wounded.
And the battle increased that day: howbeit the king of Israel stayed himself up in his chariot against the Syrians until the even: and about the time of the sun going down he died.