MacLaren Expositions Of Holy Scripture
And Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened himself against Israel.2 Chronicles
2 Chronicles 17:1 - 2 Chronicles 17:10.
The first point to be noted in this passage is that Jehoshaphat followed in the steps of Asa his father. Stress is laid on his adherence to the ancestral faith, ‘the first ways of his father David,’-before his great fall,-and the paternal example, ‘he sought to the God of his father.’ Such carrying on of a predecessor’s work is rare in the line of kings of Judah, where father and son were seldom of the same mind in religion. The principle of hereditary monarchy secures peaceful succession, but not continuity of policy. Many a king of Judah had to say in his heart what Ecclesiastes puts into Solomon’s mouth, ‘I hated all my labour, . . . seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?’ But it is not only in kings’ houses that that experience is realised. Many a home is saddened to-day because the children do not seek the God of their fathers. ‘Instead of the fathers’ should ‘come up thy children’; but, alas! grandmother Lois and mother Eunice do not always see the boy who has known the Scriptures from a child grow up into a Timothy, in whom their unfeigned faith lives again. The neglect of religious instruction in professedly Christian families, the inconsistent lives of parents or their too rigid restraints, or, sometimes, their too lax discipline, are to be blamed for many such cases. But there are many instances in which not the parents, but the children, are to be blamed. An earnest Sunday-school teacher may do much to lead the children of godly parents to their father’s God. Blessed is the home where the golden chain of common faith binds hearts together, and family love is elevated and hallowed by common love of God!
Jehoshaphat’s religion was, further, resolutely held in the face of prevailing opposition. ‘The Baalim’ were popular; it was fashionable to worship them. They were numerous, and all varieties of taste could find a Baal to please them. But this young king turned from the tempting ways that opened flower-strewn before him, and chose the narrow road that led upwards. ‘So did not I, because of the fear of God,’ might have been his motto. A similar determined setting of our faces God-ward, in spite of the crowd of tempting false deities around us, must mark us, if we are to have any religion worth calling by the name. This king recoiled from the example of the neighbouring monarchy, and walked ‘not after the doings of Israel.’ His seeking to God was very practical, for it was not shown simply by professed beliefs or by sentiment, but by ordering his life in obedience to God’s will. The test of real religion is, after all, a life unlike the lives of the men who do not share our faith, and moulded in accordance with God’s known will. It is vain to allege that we are seeking the Lord unless we are walking in His commandments.
Prosperity followed godliness, in accordance with the divinely appointed connection between them which characterised the Old Dispensation. ‘Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New,’ says Bacon. But the epigram is too neat to be entirely true, for the Book of Job and many a psalm show that the eternal problem of suffering innocence was raised by facts even in the old days, and in our days there are forms of well-being which are the natural fruits of well-doing. Still, the connection was closer in Judah than with us, and, in the case before us, the establishment of Jehoshaphat in the kingdom, his subject’s love, which showed itself in voluntary gifts over and above the taxes imposed, and his wealth and honour, were the direct results of his true religion.
A really devout man must be a propagandist. True faith cannot be hid nor be dumb. As certainly as light must radiate must faith strive to communicate itself. So the account of Jehoshaphat’s efforts to spread the worship of Jehovah follows the account of his personal godliness. ‘His heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord.’ There are two kinds of lifted-up hearts; one when pride, self-sufficiency, and forgetfulness of God, raise a man to a giddy height, from which God’s judgments are sure to cast him down and break him in the fall; one when a lowly heart is raised to high courage and devotion, and ‘set on high,’ because it fears God’s name. Such elevation is consistent with humility. It fears no fall; it is an elevation above earthly desires and terrors, neither of which can reach it, so as to hinder the man from walking in ‘the ways of the Lord.’ This king was lifted to it by his happy experience of the blessed effects of obedience. These encouraged him to vigorous efforts to spread the religion which had thus gladdened and brightened his own life. Is that the use we make of the ease which God gives us?
Jehoshaphat had to destroy first, in order to build up. The ‘high places and Asherim’ had to be taken out of Judah before the true worship could be established there. So it is still. The Christian has to carry a sword in the one hand, and a trowel in the other. Many a rotten old building, the stones of which have been cemented in blood, has to be swept away before the fair temple can be reared. The Devil is in possession of much of the world, and the lawful owner has to dispossess the ‘squatter.’ No one can suppose that society is organised on Christian principles even in so-called ‘Christian countries’; and there is much overturning work to be done before He whose right it is to reign is really king over the whole earth. We, too, have our ‘high places and Asherim’ to root out.
But that destructive work is not to be done by force. Institutions can only be swept away when public opinion has grown to see their evils. Forcible reformations of manners, and, still more, of religion, never last, but are sure to be followed by violent rebounds to the old order. So, side by side with the removal of idolatry, this king took care to diffuse the knowledge of the true worship, by sending out a body of influential commissioners to teach in Judah. That was a new departure of great importance. It presents several interesting features. The composition of the staff of instructors is remarkable. The principal men in it are five court officers, next to whom, and subordinate, as is shown not only by the order of enumeration, but by the phrase ‘with them,’ were nine Levites, and, last and lowest of all, two priests. We might have expected that priests should be the most numerous and important members of such a body, and we are led to suspect that the priesthood was so corrupted as to be careless about religious reformation. A clerical order is not always the most ardent in religious revival. The commissioners were probably chosen, without regard to their being priests, Levites, or ‘laymen,’ because of their zeal in the worship of Jehovah; and the five ‘princes’ head the list in order to show the royal authority of the commission.
Another point is the emphasis with which their function of teaching is thrice mentioned in three verses. Apparently the bulk of the nation knew little or nothing of ‘the law of the Lord,’ either on its spiritual and moral or its ceremonial side; and Jehoshaphat’s object was to effect an enlightened, not a forcible and superficial, change. God’s way of influencing actions is to reveal Himself to the understanding and the heart, that these may move the will, and that may shape the deeds. Wise men will imitate God’s way. Jehoshaphat did not issue royal commands, but sent out teachers. In 2 Chronicles 19:5 we find him despatching ‘judges’ in similar fashion throughout Judah. They had the power to punish, but these teachers had only authority to explain and to exhort.
The present writer accepts the chronicler’s statement that the teachers had ‘the Book of the Law’ with them, though he recognises it as possible that that ‘Book’ was not identical with the complete collection of documents which now bears the name. But, be that as it may, the incident of our text is remarkable as being the only recorded systematic and complete attempt to diffuse the remedy against idolatry throughout the kingdom, as putting religious reformation on its only sure ground, and as hinting at deep and widespread ignorance among the masses.
‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ So Judah found. ‘A terror of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms’ around. No doubt, the news filtered to them of how Jehovah was exerting His might on the nation, and a certain indefinable awe of this so potent god, who was defeating the Baalim, made them think that peace was the best policy. Each nation was supposed to have its own god, and the national god was supposed to fight for his worshippers; so that war was a struggle of deities as well as of men, and the stronger god won. Here was a god who had reconquered his territory, and had cast out usurpers. Prudence dictated keeping on good terms with him. But it never occurred to any of these peoples that their own gods were any less real than Judah’ s, or that Judah’s God could ever become theirs.
And next him was Amasiah the son of Zichri, who willingly offered himself unto the LORD; and with him two hundred thousand mighty men of valour.2 Chronicles
2 Chronicles 17:16.
This is a scrap from the catalogue of Jehoshaphat’s ‘mighty men of valour’; and is Amasiah’s sole record. We see him for a moment and hear his eulogium and then oblivion swallows him up. We do not know what it was that he did to earn it. But what a fate, to live to all generations by that one sentence!
I. Cheerful self-surrender the secret of all religion.
The words of our text contain a metaphor naturally drawn from the sacrificial system. It comes so easily to us that we scarcely recognise the metaphorical element, but the clear recognition of it gives great additional energy to the words. Amasiah was both sacrificer and sacrifice. His offering was self-immolation. As in all love, so in that noblest kind of it which clasps God, its perfect expression is, ‘I give Thee my living, loving self.’ Nor is it only sacrifice and sacrificer that are seen in deepest truth in the experience of the Christian life, but the reality of the Temple is also there, for ‘Ye also . . . are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.’ Only when God dwells in us, shall we have the nerve and the firmness of hand to take the knife and ‘slay before the Lord,’ the awful Guest in the sanctuary within, the most precious of the children of our spirits.
The essence of the sacrifice of self is the sacrifice of will. In the Christian experience ‘willingly offered’ is almost tautology, for unwilling offerings are a contradiction and in fact there are no such things. The quality of unwillingness destroys the character of the offering and robs it of all sacredness. Reluctant Christianity is not Christianity. That noun and that adjective can never be buckled together.
The submission of will and the consequent surrender of myself and my powers, opportunities, and possessions, so that I do all, enjoy all, use all, and when need is, endure all with glad thankful reference to God is only possible to me in the measure in which my will is made flexible by love, and such will-subduing love comes only when we ‘know and believe the love that God hath to us.’ There is the point at which not a few moral and religious teachers go wrong and bewilder themselves and their disciples. There, too, is the point at which Christ and the Gospel of salvation through faith in Him stand forth as emancipating humanity from the dreary round of efforts and vain attempts to work up the condition needful for achieving the height of self-surrender, which is seen to be indispensable to all true nobleness of living, but is felt to be beyond the reach of the ordinary man. There, too, is the point at which many good people mar their lives as Christians. They waste their strength in trying to bring the jibbing horse up to the leap. They try to blow up a fire of devotion and to make themselves priests to offer themselves, but all the while the mutinous self recoils from the leap, and the fire burns smokily, and their sacrifice is laid on the altar with little joy, because they have not been careful and wise enough to begin at the beginning and to follow God’s way of melting their wills, by love, the reflection of the Infinite love of God to them. God’s priests offer themselves because they offer their wills; they offer their wills because they love God; they love God because they know that God loves them. That is the divine order. It is vain to try to accomplish the end by any other.
II. This willing offering hallows all life.
No syllable is left to tell us what Amasiah did to win this praise. Probably the words enshrine some now forgotten memory of his cheerful courage, some heroic feat on an unrecorded battlefield. Particulars are not given nor needed. Specific actions are unimportant; the spirit of a life can be told with very incomplete details, and it, not the details, is the important thing. Sometimes, as in many modern biographies, one ‘cannot see the wood for the trees,’ and misses the main drift and aim of a life in the chaos of a bewildering mass of nothings. How much more happy the lot of this man of whom we have only the generalised expression of the text, unweighted and undisturbed by petty incidents! It takes tons of rose leaves to make a tiny phial of otto of roses, but the fragrance is far more pungent in a drop of the distillation than in armfuls of leaves. Every life shrinks into very small compass, and the centuries do not tolerate long biographies. Shall we not seek to order our life so that Amasiah’s epitaph may serve for us? It will be blessed if this-and nothing else-is known about us, that we ‘willingly offered ourselves to the Lord.’ My friend: will that be a true epitome of your life?
III. This willing offering is accepted by God.
We may hear a mightier voice behind the chronicler’ s, and the judgment of the Judge of all pronounced by His lips. It matters little what men say of one another, but it matters everything what God says of us. We are but too apt to forget that He is now saying something as to each of us, and that we have not to wait for death to put a final period to our activities, before our lives become fit subjects for God’s judgment, Moment by moment we are writing our own sentences. But while it is good for us to remember the continuous judgment of God on each deed, it is not good to let dark thoughts of the principles of that judgment paralyse our activity or chill our confidence in His forgiving and accepting mercy. There is often a dark suspicion, like that of the one-talented servant, which blackens God’s fair fame as being ‘an austere Man,’ making demands rather than imparting power, and the effect of such an ugly conception of Him is to cut the nerve of service and bury the talent, carefully folded up, it may be, but none the less earning nothing. ‘If we call on Him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work,’ let us be sure that it will be a Fatherly judgment that He will pass upon us and our offerings. There is a wonderful collection on His altar of what many people would think rubbish, just as many a mother has laid away among her treasures some worthless article which her child had once given her-a weed plucked by the roadside in a long past summer day, some trifle of rare preciousness in the child’s eyes, and of none in any others than her own. She opens her drawer and brings out the poor little thing, and her eyes fill and her heart fills as she looks. And does not God keep His children’s gifts as lovingly, and set them in places of honour in the day when He ‘makes up His jewels’? There are cups of cold water and widows’ mites and much else that a supercilious world would call ‘trash’ stored there. Thank God! He accepts imperfect service, faltering faith, partial consecration, a little love. Even our poor offering may be an ‘odour of a sweet smell,’ ministering fragrance that is a delight to Him, if it is offered with the much incense of the great Sacrifice and through the mediation of the great High Priest.
The world forgot Amasiah, or never knew him, an obscure soldier in an obscure kingdom, but God did not forget, and here is his epitaph, and this is his memorial to all generations. Men’s chronicles have no room for all the names that their wearers are eager to have inscribed on their crumbling and crowded pages, ‘but the Lamb’s Book of Life’ has ample space on its radiant pages for all who desire to set their names there, and if ours are there, we need not envy the proudest whose titles and deeds fill the most conspicuous pages in the world’s records. ‘Then shall every man have praise of Christ,’ and he who wins that guerdon needs nothing more, and can have nothing more to swell his blessedness.