The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened himself against Israel.2Chronicles 17:1-9.
1. And Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened himself against Israel.
[Jehoshaphat ascended the throne in the fourth year of Ahab (1Kings 22:41), probably after that monarch had contracted his alliance with the royal family of Sidon, and before he was engaged in war with Syria. It was thus not unnatural that he should begin his reign by strengthening himself against a possible attack on the part of his northern neighbour.—The Speaker's Commentary.]
2. And he placed forces [comp. chap. 2Chronicles 11:12] in all the fenced cities of Judah, and set garrisons [or "governors" (comp. 1Kings 4:7, 1Kings 4:19)] in the land of Judah, and in the cities of Ephraim, which Asa his father had taken.
3. And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David [The LXX. and several Hebrew MSS. omit "David." The real meaning of the writer is, that Jehoshaphat followed the example set by his father Asa in his earlier years], and sought not unto Baalim ["And sought not the Baals." The Baals were different local aspects of the sun-god. Jehoshaphat was not seduced into this worship, though in his day it overspread almost the whole kingdom of Israel];
4. But sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel.
5. Therefore the Lord stablished the kingdom in his hand [comp 2Kings 14:5]; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents [this word often means tributary offerings; but here it denotes the voluntary gifts of loyal subjects]; and he had riches and honour in abundance.
6. And his heart was lifted up [usually the phrase has a bad meaning, (as in Deuteronomy 8:14; 2Chronicles 26:16; Psalm 131:1, etc.); but it is evident that it must be taken differently here. The marginal reading is right: "his courage rose high," or "he grew bold"] in the ways of the Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.
7. ¶ Also in the third year of his reign he sent to his princes [rather, he sent his princes] even to Ben-hail, and to Obadiah, and to Zechariah, and to Nethaneel, and to Michaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah.
8. And with them he sent [rather, were the] Levites, even Shemaiah, and Nethaniah, and Zebadiah, and Asahel, and Shemiramoth, and Jehonathan, and Adonijah, and Tobijah, and Tobadonijah, Levites; and with them Elishama and Jehoram, priests.
9. And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord [the Pentateuch—nearly, if not quite, in the shape in which we now have it] with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught [among] the people.
The Reign of Jehoshaphat
And Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his stead, and strengthened himself against Israel" (2Chronicles 17:1).
IN succeeding to that throne of Israel Jehoshaphat simply followed the course of a law, but in strengthening himself against Israel he indicated a personal policy. How definitely the statement reads! There is no doubt or hesitation in the mind of Jehoshaphat as to the course which ought to be pursued. He did not simply think that he would strengthen himself against Israel; he had not a merely momentary vision of a possible fortification against the enemy; he actually carried out his purpose, and thus challenged northern Israel. On the other hand, how peaceful is the declaration that is here made! There is not an aggressive tone in all the statement. Innocent Jehoshaphat simply "strengthened himself against Israel," that is to say, he puts himself into a highly defensive position, so that if the enemy should pour down from the north Jehoshaphat would be secured against his assaults. Everything, therefore, depends upon the point of view which we take of this policy. But the thing which history has made clear is that a man often lays down a policy before waiting the issue of events which would determine its scope and tone. All this was done by Jehoshaphat before he connected himself by marriage with the northern dynasty. A marriage may upset a policy: a domestic event may alter the course of a king's thinking, and readjust the lines of a nation's relation to other kingdoms. The wise man holds himself open to the suggestion and inspiration of events. No man is as wise to-day as he will be tomorrow, provided he pay attention to the literature of providence which is being daily written before his eyes. Our dogmatics, whether in theology or in state policy, should be modified by the recollection that we do not now know all things, and that further light may show what we do know in a totally different aspect. Our policy, like our bread, should, in a sense, be from day to day. When men are omniscient they may lay down a theological programme from which departure would be blasphemy; but until they are omniscient they had better write with modesty, and subscribe even their best constructed creeds with reservations which will leave room for providence.
"And the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim" (2Chronicles 17:3).
The Lord was not with Jehoshaphat because he strengthened himself against Israel, nor because he placed forces in all the fenced cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah and in the streets of Ephraim. Not one of these little triumphs is referred to as affording God a basis for the complaisant treatment of the new king. As ever, the Lord's relation to Jehoshaphat was determined by Jehoshaphat's own moral condition. A very beautiful expression is this—"he walked in the first ways of his father David," that is to say, in the former or earlier ways of David as contrasted with David's later conduct. Some have found here a tacit allusion to David's greatest sin which he committed when he was advanced in life. A somewhat mournful thing it is that a man's first ways should be better than his last. The other relation would seem to be the one which reason would approve and God would specially honour, namely, that a man's old age should be the ripest and best part of his conduct, rich with wisdom, strong with experience, and chastened by many a pensive recollection. Sad when you have to go back to a man's youth to find his virtues or his most conspicuous excellences; but most beautiful when a man's earlier mistakes are lost in the richness and wisdom of his later conduct. God keeps his attention fixed on all the parts of a man's life, and he observes which of those parts is most esteemed by the man's own successors. Happy is that father whose whole example is worthy of imitation; yet more than human is he the whole of whose life is without stain or flaw. Jehoshaphat's conduct in this matter is the more notable because of the constant observation of mankind that it is easier to follow the evil than to imitate the good. When imitation enters into a man's life he is prone to copy that which is inferior, and to leave without reproduction that which is lofty and disciplinary. In this instance Jehoshaphat sets an example to the world. His conduct too is represented negatively as well as positively—"and sought not unto Baalim." The word "Baalim" is in the plural number, and the literal reading might be, "Jehoshaphat sought not the Baals," the Baals being different local aspects or phases of the sun-god. It is to be specially noted that the term Baal includes an aspect even of Jehovah himself; that is to say, Israel had degenerated so far as to suppose that in worshipping Baal they were worshipping at least one phase of the true God. We must not mix up our religion with our irreligion, our prayers with our idolatry, our heavenliness with our worldly-mindedness: the whole arrangement must be clean and pure from one end to the other, inasmuch as one taint may cause the whole process of our religious thought and service to become deteriorated and valueless. It is often difficult to abandon a popular custom. More people might be in favour of Jehoshaphat strengthening himself against Israel than in returning to the first ways of David and abandoning the altar of the Baals. History and religion are always considered in their separate distribution. There are politicians who would vote for a war, who would on no account surrender a superstition. On the other hand, there are men who pride themselves on being free of the influence of superstition, who would willingly enter into the most sanguinary wars for the extension of empire or the glory of some particular throne. In Jehoshaphat we seem to come into contact with a complete character, in other words, a man who in every point was equally strong, a man of foresight, a man of reverence, a man of an honest heart, a man who felt that idolatry and true worship could not coexist in the same breast.
"But sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel" (2Chronicles 17:4).
We must be prepared for singularity if we are genuinely prepared to be good. Let a man settle it with himself in prayerful solitude whether he means to walk with God or to identify himself with the spirit and customs of his age. Jehoshaphat laid down a clear programme for himself, and followed it out with patient and faithful industry. "The Lord God of his father" was not a mere term in a crowd; it was the object of daily search and quest; Jehoshaphat inquired for him, and operated constantly upon the doctrine: Ask, and it shall be given you; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Nor was Jehoshaphat's religion merely speculative, that is to say, an intellectual quest after an intellectual God; whatever was speculative in the mind and service of Jehoshaphat was sustained and ennobled by a solid moral element, forasmuch as Jehoshaphat "walked in God's commandments,"—he read the decalogue, he studied God's word, he would take no action, personal, regal, or social, that was not first examined and approved in the light of the divine statutes. All this might have been comparatively easy if Jehoshaphat had started at an independent point; but at such a point no man can start, for he must take up the age as he finds it, and must first disembarrass himself from all the stipulations and claims of custom, usage, and popular superstition: Jehoshaphat sought not after the doings of Israel; he set himself up in this respect against the kingdom; he was not afraid of peculiarity; in a word, Jehoshaphat's religion was characteristic, that is to say, it had lines, points, and colours of its own, about which there could be no reasonable mistake. What is our religion? Do we intellectually assent to the existence and sovereignty of one God, and then degenerate into self-worship? Do we admit that there must be an ultimate morality, a philosophy of conduct founded upon eternal metaphysics; and then do we measure our own behaviour by the canon of custom? These are questions that search the heart, and no man can answer them for his brother.
What became of all this noble conduct arising out of this high religious conception? We shall see in the following verse,—
"Therefore the Lord stablished the kingdom in his hand: and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance" (2Chronicles 17:5).
Whatever was doubtful about the ascent of Jehoshaphat to the throne was removed, and the king was enabled to realise his power; when he closed his hand upon the royal sceptre he found that he was not grasping a shadow but a reality. There are times when men become fully conscious of their influence, and of their proper social position; happy are they if in this consciousness they detect a prevailingly religious element, which constrains them to acknowledge that honour and wealth, power and dignity, are the gifts of God. Is not this an anticipation of the Saviour's great doctrine—"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you"? Jehoshaphat did not seek riches and honour; he sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in the divine commandments, and as a result he enjoyed all that kings delight in as indicating strength and pomp, renown and influence.
"And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah" (2Chronicles 17:6).
The expression "his heart was lifted up" is an awkward one. The lifting up of the heart signifies increase of pride, a sensation of vanity, a desire to gratify personal ambition, and to make an idol of his will. In this instance the marginal reading is to be preferred—"was encouraged;" or otherwise, "his courage rose high;" and again, it has been rendered, "Jehoshaphat grew bold," that is to say, he was not a timid reformer, or a timid worshipper, a trimmer or a time-server in any sense; he was a heroic worshipper of the living God; when he saw that reform was necessary he went forward with a steady step and an energetic hand. We should call Jehoshaphat a man of conviction, and a man who had the courage of his convictions; altogether this is the outline of a noble personage, a born king, a man who has a right to the purple and the sceptre. When such men ascend thrones nations should be glad and rejoice with a great joy, for their character is grander than their office, and their spirit is the best guarantee of the elevation and utility of their regal policy. Becoming conscious of his power, knowing that his kingdom was established from on high, Jehoshaphat not only did pot seek the Baals himself, but he took away the high places and groves out of Judah. Jehoshaphat was not content with a merely personal religion; he could not convert the hearts of his people, but he could destroy all the symbols of unholy worship. Men are only required to do that which lies within their power. A proprietor may not be able to make people sober, but he can forbid the introduction of temptations to drunkenness; a parent may not be able to subdue the spirit of pride, but he can in many instances limit the means of gratifying it. There are reforms which are open to us all, in personal custom, in social habit, it may be even in imperial ways; let each Jehoshaphat seize his opportunity and magnify it.
All this would have been comparatively in vain but for another step which Jehoshaphat took. In the third year of his reign he sent to his princes—that is to say, he sent his princes—and he sent Levites, all of whose names are given; and he sent also two priests, Elishama and Jehoram, and their business was purely educational.
"And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people" (2Chronicles 17:9).
This was a mixed commission, partly civil, partly ecclesiastical. The men here mentioned are otherwise unknown. We identify them as educational reformers, or reformers who operated through the medium of education; they were not warriors, destroyers, revolutionists, but men who addressed the mind and the understanding and the conscience, and caused men to know that the true law was from above and not from beneath. The book which the commission had in hand was the Pentateuch, or the law of Moses. This was known to be the law which alone could touch all the vital necessities of the commonwealth. Again and again we are constrained to admit that there is a law beyond man, above man, in a sense apart from man; men are not driven within themselves to find a law, an instinct, or a reason; they have a written statute, an authoritative declaration, a book which Christian teachers do not hesitate to describe as a revelation, and to that they call the attention of men. If the teacher were teaching out of his own consciousness he would be but an equal, often exposing himself to the destructive criticism of his more advanced and penetrating scholars; but the teacher takes his stand upon a book, upon the Book, the Bible, a revelation which he believes to be divine and final. Say what we will, the effect of Bible teaching must be judged by its fruits. Where are the nations that are most distinguished for wide and varied intelligence, for large and exhaustive sympathy, for missionary enterprise, for philanthropic institutions, and for all the elements which give grace and beauty to social existence? The question should admit of definite reply; the facts are before men; let them judge fearlessly and honestly, and we need have no apprehension concerning their verdict. Wherever the word of the Lord has had free course superstition has been chased away, human slavery has been abolished, every instance of intolerance, injustice, unkindness has felt the influence of holy thought; in all these matters discussion should be limited strictly to facts. Thus kings can help nations, not by forcing education, not by attempting to rule opinion, not by setting up standards of orthodoxy to fall short of which is to incur penalty; but by spreading education, by extending light, by cultivating a spirit of inquiry, and by a generous multiplication of all the instrumentalities needed for the destruction of ignorance. What may come of this we are not supposed at this moment to know. Meanwhile, let us be thankful that we are face to face with a man who has conviction, courage, independence, high patriotic and generous impulse, and let us hope that his end may be as beautiful as his beginning was promising.