The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the LORD in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.2Chronicles 35:1, 2Chronicles 35:18
"Josiah [2Kings 23:21-22] kept a passover unto the Lord in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. [Not at an irregular time like Hezekiah (chap. 2Chronicles 30:2), but on the day appointed by the law (Exodus 12:6)].
"And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem." [The chronicler agrees with the writer of Kings that there had been no such passover since the days of the last judge, Samuel. Its superiority to other passovers seems to have consisted—(1) in the multitudes that attended it; and (2) in the completeness with which all the directions of the law were observed in its celebration. Comp. Nehemiah 8:17.—The Speaker's Commentary.]
A Solemn Passover
HOW one religious exercise gathers around itself the memory of all others! one day may be the keystone in a bridge of days. There was no such passover, no such holy excitement, divine and ennobling enthusiasm, no such conscious unity of heart and consent of will and sacrifice of soul, no such supremacy of joy. What does history say about this matter? The testimony of history is that the divinest enjoyments are associated with religion. Analyse the emotion as we may, it is in the excitement of true religious feeling that the highest, deepest, truest joys of men have ever been found. How then can such joy, even religious gladness, be enhanced? Only by an action from within itself. We can add nothing to religious excitement that is intelligent and noble. But we can develop such excitement from passion to passion, from enlargement to enlargement, until the whole heaven seems to be filled with its glory, and all the heart to be inspired by its music. We need occasional days in religious history. We cannot have a continual revival, for then the unusual would become the familiar. We cannot carry miracles beyond a certain number, because they would cease to be miracles and fall into commonplaces. Wealth itself cannot, for effective purposes, be carried beyond a given quantity until it becomes poverty, and no man is so poor as the poor millionaire. We need occasional revival, excitement, enthusiasm of sensation, leading to completeness of sacrifice. We could not hear some preachers always, because we cannot live on their level, or abide in the tabernacle of their imagining and their prayer. It is well to hear them now and again, they create epochs in our memories. They make us forget the past except for purposes of comparison. We cannot always live in the highest prayer; for days together we must hardly pray at all, except in our readiness to pray; we cannot enter into the passion of intercession; we sink into the repose of gracious willingness to see the Lord when it pleases him to reveal himself; but we are not to consider that such repose is indolence or spiritual desuetude, involving the criminality of conscious neglect.
Herein is a law of nature, an operation of the soul familiar to us in the higher education, and in the higher excitements of commercial, political, and literary life. But the occasional passover, how memorable, how tender, how good to recall! What an inspiration to revive in the soul. Pity the man whose calendar is all written alike, who has no red-letter days of the heart, no memory of prayer that thrills him with unutterable joy. You remember the early struggle with sin and the devil, and how by the grace of God you were enabled to fling the monster to the ground and stand upon him in sign of victory? Never let that writing in the record fade out. You remember the first glimpse of God in prayer? You prayed on with difficulty, words seemed to come hesitantly to your use, as if they were partly afraid of you: but you persevered, and from sentence you passed to sentence, until the whole soul glowed with a new delight; and for the moment—for men can only be conscious of God for one moment—for the moment heaven was opened, and you by the cross of Christ had right of entry. Never forget that day. When temptation thickens upon you, and the devil's hand is on your throat, remember that blessed passover, and the memory of it shall be a protection, a benediction, and an inspiration. Comfort one another with these words.
Almighty God, it is our joy to know that all things are in thy hand, and not in ours. The Lord reigneth, and no other god—thy throne is in the heavens, and thy dominion ruleth over all. The very hairs of our head are all numbered, our steps are known; our downsitting and our uprising, our outgoing and our incoming, are all observed. There is not a word upon our tongue, there is not a thought in our heart, but, lo, O Lord, it is known altogether, for all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. But thine is a kind eye, a tender look, a heart of pity; truly thy mercy endureth for ever. When our father's pity fails, and there is no more love in our mother's heart, thy mercy, so abundant, seems but to begin to be, for there is no measure thereof, and no line can be laid upon it, and no man hath found the shore of that great sea. We ourselves know these things, for we live in thy mercy. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed. If thy pity were less, our life would be shorter—it is because thy compassions fail not that our days run on; we live and move and have our being in thine unwasting love. We bless thee that we know these things: once we did not know them; we were gods unto ourselves, and our hearts turned in upon their own resources and found a sanctuary in their own ignorance and feebleness. But now our house is built upon the rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We have found the Living One, the strong Lord, the God of hosts, the Creator of the ends of the earth. In thine omnipotence we find our defence, in thy wisdom we find our judgment—behold thou art unto us as an infinite pavilion, giving us security by night and day; and thou art a great sun, in whose rays we find our morning and our summer. For all these convictions, hopes, delights, and unspeakable satisfactions we magnify the Lord. We are no more kept away from him, we have been taken up into the Lord's chariot, and neither hill nor sea shall keep us from him. We bless thee for all the mercies of the week—seven days of compassion, pity, care, watchfulness, pardon, love. We would gather up all our memories into one adoring psalm and thankful hymn, and with one voice and one heart praise the Lord for his wonderful works. We come before thee to find rest, for we are weary: we return to replenish our strength, for our power has gone out of us. O Living Fountain, Eternal Spring, River that is full of water, to thee we come, and our thirst is swallowed up as a spark in the sea. We believe that thou dost give unto thy people peace, rest, joy, renewal of strength: thou dost recall their tenderest memories, thou dost cause their recollection to become as prophecies of the future: from all their history thou art drawing new revelations of thine own power, wisdom, and graciousness, and because our yesterdays have glowed with so warm a heat, and have been brilliant with so intense a light, we will not fear the coming morrow—we put ourselves into thy hands, we will go whither thou dost lead. Jesus, be our Guide. Help us to believe that all things work together for good to them that love thee. Enable us to believe that everything in the universe is in thy care. Thou numberest the drops of the dew of the morning, and there is no cloud that falleth in tender showers upon the earth that is not reckoned up in thy host of riches. All things are thine, and we are thy creatures, made in thine image, capable of ascertaining and obeying thy will. Help us to make it our only delight to find out the law and the will of heaven, and to do this with a glad heart and an industrious hand. We have many wants, but thou knowest every interest which we represent: we have much sin, but there is much blood: great guilt, but there is a greater cross. Where sin abounded grace hath much more abounded—it is then to that abounding and redundant grace that we now come, that our sin, poverty, weakness, may be destroyed and forgotten because of the infinite love of God. Take our life into thy charge—shape it into thine own forms, inspire it with thine own meaning; lead it to the accomplishment of thy purpose, up the steep hill, down in the dark and tortuous vale, through the Jordan, over the Red Sea, through the wilderness—anywhere, everywhere; choose the way and keep our choice back from us—only let us follow thee willingly, joyously, with indestructible hopefulness of spirit, knowing that nothing can happen that is not caught within the sweep of thy great plan, that all things fall into the scheme of thy wisdom, are overruled, directed, and sanctified by an immutable and invincible power. Regard thy servants who try to pray—whose prayer trembles upon their lips as if unable to get away to heaven—a poor, broken-winged bird that can hardly flutter. O help their infirmities, and be the minister of their prayers. Help them in their confessions and lamentations, in their desire for wider knowledge, for clearer insight into truth—give them all the blessings needed to redeem, purify, enlarge, and glorify the life upon which they have entered. Let there be great answering of prayer to-day; yea, let the answers of the Lord overflow the house—then shall we truly know that we have been praying in the name of the Lamb of God, Saviour of the world, Priest of the universe, our Lord Christ Jesus. Amen.
Meddling With God
JOSIAH was an excellent king of Judah. There had been none like him for many a long day. He was but an infant when he came unto the throne, that is to say, he was eight years old. The written law had been lost a very long time; Josiah had nothing by way of example to draw upon that could lift him up towards the true notion of worship and service to the real God. Being so young, what could he do? He found something in his own heart, as we should humanly say, that started him on the right direction. He began in a very wonderful way to do very excellent things. He seemed to be a kind of instinctive or intuitional reformer, for the law was lost, and the priests and prophets seemed to be dumb, and the poor young king wrought away with such light as he had, and in the course of his working he did what we may do if we try—he found the law. We should find more if we sought for more: he that doeth the will shall know the doctrine: he who uses the little candle that is at his disposal shall be led out into solar light—twilight to begin with, but growing unceasingly and unchangeably up into the midday blaze of glory.
Josiah then found the law, had it read in his hearing, learned from it that every king of Judah and of Israel had been covenanted to keep that law with his own hand, and he felt that all the judgments prophesied against the house of Israel and of Judah would fall upon his own head, because he had not obeyed the letter of the word of the Lord. What was to be done? It was speedily discovered that the wardrobe-keeper had a wife in whom was the spirit of prophecy, and so to Huldah they went, and she sent comfortable messages to the young king. She said: Thus saith the Lord to the man who hath acted so, Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast feared the Lord, none of these judgments shall fall upon thee, but thou shalt be gathered to thy fathers in peace, and after that there shall come a black day upon the black people. So Josiah took heart again, and it came into his mind to revive the old ceremonies and ritual of Israel, and to do wonderful things in the way of the passover, and we read that there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet.
Now Josiah will go down to his fathers in peace—if he behave himself. He reigned one and thirty years, and in the last month of that last year he may be tripped up. We are not safe while we are on the water, though there may be but eighteen inches between the ship and the land; there is room enough in eighteen inches to sink down. Let us get on to the land before we sing—be on the rock before we take the trumpet and put it to our lips: risk nothing of the detail of life—an iota may ruin us, the miss of the smallest writing in all the minutest detail may lead to loss, to death, to hell. Man is not saved by lumps of good behaviour, by breadths of possible morality: he that is unfaithful in the least will be unfaithful in the greatest. Even yet Josiah may be smitten from heaven after his one and thirty years of very excellent service—so many people get wrong just at the last, so many people fall into the water just as they are stepping on land. What I say unto one, I say unto all—Watch.
The miscarriage in the case of Josiah came about in this way. There was a king of Egypt called Pharaoh Necho, an old foe of the Assyrian empire. He came up to fight against Charchemish, by Euphrates, and Josiah at his own instigation went out against Necho king of Egypt. But Necho king of Egypt sent ambassadors to him, saying, "What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not." A noble message—the man who can speak so calmly, solemnly, religiously, will fight well. Have no faith in the blustering assailant—dread the man who challenges thee when on his knees.
Josiah would not turn his face from Necho, but disguised himself that he might fight with him; he hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot at King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, "Have me away, for I am sore wounded." So he was put into his second chariot, and carried home. And he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers—he who might have been gathered to his fathers quietly, in the very peace, in the infinite sweetness of the benediction of God, was shot like a dog.
Does any man pride himself upon a quarter of a century's good behaviour? If there is a day yet left to him, that is time enough to sponge out all the beauty of the past and to find his way into perdition. The question most deeply interesting is, What can we learn from the words of the king of Egypt that will help us to live a true and useful life?
Do we not learn from Necho—unfamiliar name, unaccustomed minister—that our life is not a series of unrelated accidents, but that it is part of a divine and immutable scheme? The king of Egypt said in effect to Josiah: "This is no doing of mine; I am secondary in the matter; I am not following the lure of my own fancy; I am impelled by God; I am here as his servant—treat me as such, or God will cause his judgment to fall upon thee." This is the only solid ground to occupy, if life is to be more than a continual exasperation and a bitter disappointment. This is the great doctrine of Providence which Jesus Christ never ceased to teach, and never ceased to live. When he began his life, what did he say? O to catch the first words from those eloquent lips!—what was the first note in the anthem of that tragic life? "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" What was the last note in that same anthem? Will he be able to make his way round, so as to finish where he began? Hear him on the cross: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Father at first,. Father at last, and throughout all the teaching the same word glowed like a sun that kept all the inferior stars in their places.
Have you been centring in yourself, beginning with your own little individuality, carving out a small system of astronomy with your own shadow as a centre? Then wonder not that your faces are wrinkled, and that there is a murmur in your speech, a cloud in your sky, and that you are lost amid all the little, petty, fretful, vexatious details of life. You are wrong. We are invited in Holy Scripture to believe that we are not our own creators; that we live because God wills it; that the very hairs of our head are all numbered; that our steps are of the Lord's ordering, and that our downsitting and our uprising are noted in heaven; that our outgoing is observed, and our returning regarded in the heavenly books, and at the last our deeds and words will be judged by the wise God, whose strength and wisdom are the stay of the universe. If you accept that faith you cannot be troubled; if you have any other creed, the weather, the climate, will have you up and down according to the fickleness of its own movement.
The doctrine of the Bible is a doctrine of a providential plan—a divine scheme. Every page is rich with the promises of this doctrine, not a line is out of chord with its solemn music. Yea, the cross itself is part of the infinite plan foreseen from eternity in every shadow of its gloom and every pang of its agony. So, then, we believe that God is over all, that the earth is in the hollow of his hand, and that nothing happens, even down to the falling out of its nest of the youngest sparrow in the early summer, without his notice. A grand conception, if it be nothing more—a marvellous poem if only a flash of fancy—an infinite rock if a divine revelation. And yet there are people round about us who pray to God but don't trust him. What wonder that their prayers, like birds with broken wings, die on the threshold of the closet in which they were conceived?
The great doctrine of divine providence is like the sun, distant, inaccessible; but the exemplification of that doctrine in personal and practical life is like the light which falls out of the sun, which makes morning upon our window and the abundant summer round about our houses. Let us therefore, turning from the great general doctrine which underlies the message which the king of Egypt addressed to Josiah, look at some of the minute and special colourings of this doctrine which come to us through its personal trials and realisations.
I. In the first place the king of Egypt considered that the doctrine of a providential plan was not inconsistent with difficulty, contention, loss, and suffering on the part of man. Does the king of Egypt say: "This is Providence, brother king Josiah, sitting on my throne, my head upon a pillow of down, my feet resting on velvet soft as moss, my whole house glowing with every light and every beauty"? No such foolish message does he send to the king of Judah. Necho has come up from his own land, come up to suffer, come up to fight, come up to shed blood: yet he says, "God sent me." It is so seldom we think God send us to church on a wet Sunday: we think he is so fearful of our taking cold that surely he would never be so unreasonable as to ask us to go out in wet weather. In the old, old times, when heroes shook the earth with their majestic step, they were not afraid of insects and wet days—we are.
".... 't is true: 't is true, 't is pity; And pity 't is, 't is true."
It was no holiday dream that had touched Necho's ambition or vanity: it was a service of severe discipline, anxious preparation, daily watching, mortal strife, and yet he saw God over it all, watching, directing, controlling. There are some who believe in providence when they are in a nice large boat and have the best seat, and when the water is like molten silver, and the banks are near and green, and the sky far off and blue, with many a keen light lodging in its fleecy clouds. Then they say, "Ah, after all he must be blind who does not see God in this." How sad to hear such talk! But to hear a poor woman—a widow—who has buried the one boy in the family that could work for its sustenance—to hear her say, looking at all the little girls who are nearly helpless, taking up the corner of her apron to wipe off the tear from her poor eyes—"God's will be done: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away—blessed be the name of the Lord"—that should convert us, bring us home, make us pray.
O full summer Christian, what art thou doing to bring lustre upon thy faith, to make the world wonder if it does not worship, stand aghast and amazed if it do not join thy psalm of resignation? If Christians carried out their creed, we should soon, by the blessing of God, convert the heathen.
II. In the next place the king of Egypt acknowledged and proclaimed the tender and ever-comforting doctrine of a special, personal, detailed Providence. Did he say to Josiah, "The Lord reigneth"? No. Did he refer Josiah to great abstract principles? He did not. What said Necho—man of the strange mouth and the unfamiliar voice? He said, "God commanded me, God is with me." There is a deism which says that the whole is cared for, but the part must take care of itself. The king of Egypt reversed the doctrine, saw God caring for the part, and reasoned that therefore he cared for the whole. This is the very teaching of Christ: Christ has some strange ministers, some irregular expositors, some preachers who do not come through the orthodox gate, and therefore much to be suspected by people who are cradled in orthodoxy and will be buried in it. Jesus Christ and Necho king of Egypt were at one in this high, sweet note. Jesus said, "Wherefore,"—after having looked at bird and lily, and small things accessible to the people generally,—"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" If we believed that, the remainder of our lives would be happy.
God will take care of thee, O man, if thou dost live in him and for him, and dost love him. He will not let thy grey hairs go down with sorrow to the grave, and he will find the key of that shut door, and he will search for a rod the shadow of which shall make the Red Sea sever in two parts, and thou shalt go through on dry land. Have faith in God—cast thyself upon him and wait patiently his will and the revelation of his purpose, and if thou must perish, perish with thy belief upon thy lips. No man was ever wounded to death by that dart.
God cares for the individual, for the unit. Do you care for your family as an abstraction or as a reality? Do you care for your children as a whole or do you care for them individually? If you lump them, speak of them as a poetical abstraction, who would wish to be under your patronage? But if you pick out the eldest, and the youngest, and the three or four or five between, and care for each of them as if that were the only child, then it would be well to be one of the number. And so you do. Very well: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him "—give the Holy Ghost to them that seek him—give direction to every one of his children? Why, if one of them went astray, what would he do? He would leave the ninety and nine and would go after that which was gone astray. The God that gave that representation of himself is all the God we want. The tenderness of that suggestion shall stand for learning, for criticism, for history, for logic—it shall be all in all.
By constantly desiring to know and to do the will of God, we seem to link our small life to the great chariot of God's providence; but when we take our life into our own keeping, we detach ourselves from that chariot and grope like cripples in the dark. By our faith we draw succour from the very root of God's own being, but by our unbelief and self-sufficiency we lose the sustenance, and perish because we seek not to live on God's word but on our own. To-day there are some people who imagine that they can get along pretty well without God: who are the people? Debtors to his mercy. Who are the people that have wounded you most keenly? The people to whom you have been most kind. Nobody else can thrust the knife so far into the heart. Barbarian and Scythian can give you an ugly thrust that shall tear the skin, but man of your own household, child of your own bones, friend that has sucked the blood of your love—he can thrust the blade up to the hilt.
When a man has been born in a Christian land, has been reared in a Christian atmosphere, and has had all the advantages of a Christian example and Christian training, it is impossible for that man to know exactly what he would have been and what he would have done but for those facts. Standing in a railway station, we once saw something which graphically illustrates this point. There came a carriage, all by itself—no steam engine, just a carriage and nothing more. And the carriage said, "There is a notion abroad, an old-fashioned but mistaken and sometimes mischievous notion, that it is needful to have a steam-engine in order to draw a carriage. Gentlemen," continued the carriage, looking to the few persons on the platform, "if you seek an argument to disprove that fallacy, circumspice, look around." And we all looked around, and we all saw it, and we all said, "Carriage, this is very wonderful: you brought yourself into this station apparently, now take yourself out of it." And the carriage is standing there still, and may stand there till it rots—it cannot turn a wheel. It was a detached carriage; the great engine that brought it along with mighty sweep went on, and this was left behind to spend its momentum, and it just came into the station so nicely and thought it had brought itself in. And there be many human detached carriages. They have had fathers, mothers, ministers, schools, lectures, books; they have been brought up under Christian culture, taken so far along the line: by some means or other become detached—asked to be detached, and in spending their dying momentum they think they are using an original force. Be it mine to be drawn on by the great God: I would live and move and have my being in God; my smallest affairs I would spread before him; I would ask him to my bed-chamber that he may give me sleep; I would see him at my table as the Giver and Sanctifier of my daily bread. He shall keep my door lest an enemy enter or a friend go out—when I pass through the valley of the shadow of death I will ask no other comfort than his rod and staff.
"Forbear thee from meddling with God." It is very notable that we should have this great saying from the mouth of a king of Egypt. This would have come well from the lips of Jeremiah, who prophesied in the days of Josiah king of Judah. It would have befitted the burning lips of Ezekiel; it would have fallen well from the eloquent mouth of Isaiah. But we get this doctrine from Necho king of Egypt. This is indeed water in an unexpected place—behold, a fair flower in a wide, bleak desert: hear the music of heaven played upon a strange instrument.
Do you think it cannot be true because Necho the heathenish king of Egypt said that? Then you know not that it is part of the divine plan to bring strange prophets into the ministry of the word. Were there not ten lepers cleansed? Yes. How many returned to give glory to God? One. Who was he? A stranger. Did not one man stoop to pity the wounded traveller on the road, to pour in wine and oil, to set him on his beast, to bring him to an inn, and to take care of him? Yes. Who was that? A Samaritan. Was there not a woman who surprised the Son of God himself by the abundance and vividness of her faith—did she not seem to turn back the going of the Eternal? She did. Who was she? A woman, a Syro-Phœnician, no well-dressed Jewess who was caught within the cordon of the old covenants, and seemed to have an hereditary right to the divine ministrations and privileges. Was there not a man who once said, preaching the gospel before the time, "It is expedient that one man die for the people"? Yes. Who was it—Peter? No. John? No. Who? Caiaphas. Certainly, it is God's way. If we hold our peace he will make the stones cry out. If we English Christians, stall-fed—if we hold our peace, he will make the stones cry out. If we who swallow three sermons a week, and would kill the finest preacher that ever breathed by drawing from him and never giving anything in return, if we hold our peace, He will make the stones cry out. If we who know about Nazareth, and Bethlehem, and Capernaum, and Jerusalem, and Golgotha, and Bethany, if we who have seen the blood and felt the hot healing drops fall upon our guilt—if we are dumb, the heathen shall take our places and we shall be shut out.