2 Kings 23:11
And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the LORD…
Josiah sought to purify Israel from the idolatry that had been established by his predecessors, and in the course of this reformation occurs the incident recorded in the text. He "took away the horses that the Kings of Judah had given to the sun... and burned the chariots of the sun with fire." You ask, What has this to do with the modern world and with modern men? This I wish to show. For it seems to me that there is in the text a twofold lesson which all generations ought to lay to heart. We are taught here —
I. THE PRETENTIOUSNESS OF SIN. "The horses of the sun... the chariots of the sun." Very large and magnificent indeed! There is wonderful exaggeration about all idolatry. The idol without eyes was known as the God of light; without breath, it was worshipped as the God of life; it could not stand unless it were nailed down or shored up, but it was proclaimed the Thunderer, or distinguished by some other august title. "We know that an idol is nothing in the world," but these nothings have received the highest names and titles, and through the superstition of their worshippers have been invested with the grandest attributes. And as it was with the gods of the Pantheon, so it is with the rabble of the. vices; they are full of pretentiousness, they steal supreme names, they make impossible promises. The world of iniquity is a world of dazzling colours, false magnitudes, lurid lights.
1. How brilliant is the world of diseased imagination when compared with the world of sober reality in which God has placed us to work out our life! To-day we are all readers. What are we reading? History, science, philosophy, theology? Are we bent on finding out the great meanings of sober life and real life? You know better. The main part of our leisure hours is taken up with tales of mystery and imagination. It is not well to live long with unthinkable people and impossible situations in an ideal and fantastic universe; it puts our eye out for the actual world in which our serious business lies. Multitudes who would not for a moment in actual life touch the vices gilded by literary art will spend their leisure hours in contemplating these lawless things projected into visionary realms. And what is the secret of this ambiguous conduct? The fact is; actual life seems narrow and prosaic, dull and dreary, and so we steal away in me solar phaeton. How dim and insipid is the world of sober virtue off the side of lawlessness, excused by Sophistry and glorified by imagination! In fiction me grey world becomes kaleidoscopic, and the evil world is etherealised into coloured vapours whose fantastic movements stir our curiosity and wonder. So, despising the modest vehicles which God appoints for the pilgrimage of human life, we seat ourselves in the flaming car of imagination, and, drawn by fiery steeds of passion, with Zola for a charioteer, make the dizzy, intoxicating, yet terribly dangerous circuit of the sun.
2. Again, the same truth comes out as we compare the victories of war with the victories of peace. War is sometimes inevitable, things being as they are. The scientist holds that in nature a lesser evil is permitted to prevent a greater. Just war is a lesser evil to prevent a greater. There is something better than life, and that is right, equality, liberty; and war is the desperate resort of men crushed by tyranny. Still, war is an evil, a terrible evil. We must never fail to remember that; we must ever pray and work for the golden year when men shall learn war no more. And yet what a glamour there is about the red spectre! The poet may well write of "the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war." But no crowd turns out in the morning to greet the colliers going to their work, or in the evening to cheer the factory hands returning from the mill. There is no glittering romance about industry, no poetry about the toil which creates the wealth of nations. Industry is yoked to a coster's barrow, whilst the powder-cart is the dazzling chariot of the sun.
3. We find another illustration of our point if we compare the career of unlawful speculation with the life of honest gain. How large, glowing, bewitching, is the former compared with the level course of the latter! Look at the titanic speculator. In a few years he emerges out of obscurity into national notoriety. It is all outside the legitimate, but it is dramatic, full of sensation and surprise. Squalid huckstering is transfigured into romance. How different the course of the little shopkeeper, with his "small profits and quick returns!" No song or story this time; no scent of poetry about the ledger, unless it sometimes reminds the shopkeeper of "Paradise Lost." The daring adventurer shoots towards the golden goal in an electric car, whilst the humble trader is a wayfaring man.
4. And, finally, the same truth is evident when we compare the course of sensual pleasure with the simple pleasantness of a blameless life. How violent are the delights of sensualism! How tame the entertainments of the fireside! They are ridiculous compared with the fiery delights of the dram-shop. So it is throughout. The illegitimate and destructive, the things seriously wanting in reason and godliness, appeal most to the imagination; they have a glory and garishness which bewitch and lure into false ways.
II. THE PREPOSTEROUSNESS OF SIN. "And Josiah burned the chariots of the sun with fire." Throughout the whole of the reformation that he effected Josiah manifested his deep contempt of the idolatry that had wrought such mischief in Israel. With cutting irony he abolished first one evil thing and then another. "He burned the chariots of the sun with fire." To cremate the chariots of the sun was the grimmest humour. The sun is said to be fifteen times hotter than the hottest thing upon the earth, so that if an incombustible car is wanted anywhere it is required for the insufferable solar majesty; and to cremate the car set apart for the fiery god was to convict it of fraud and to doom it to infinite contempt. To make a bonfire of the chariots of the sun was as ridiculous as if Noah's ark had suffered shipwreck in a fish-pond. All Israel smiled scornfully as the pretentious things blazed in the flame and darkened into the ashes. Here is the truth that I wish to enforce — namely, that, despite all paint and spangles, all its exaggerations and splendours, sin is a miserable sham utterly unworthy of rational men. Wickedness is a screaming farce, as it is also the supreme tragedy. Notwithstanding its theatrical rhetoric, it is a hollow lie doomed to detection and contempt. Have nothing to do with things that cannot bear the test of thought. Thought strips away the cunning disguises of sin; it is the searchlight that makes clear the fact. In the hour of reflection our reason gives the lie to passion; our instincts rebuke our fancies; our conscience scorns the sophistries of imagination. Have nothing to do with that which will not bear the test of experience. Recall the principles and teachings which have been tried and attested by many generations. The devil has an arithmetic of his own which shows how large and splendid are the wages of unrighteousness; but in actual life his specious arithmetic works into bankruptcy and beggary of every kind. Fancy figures out the couriers and chariots of the sun as the dazzling and delightful equipages of the wicked, but a ray of daylight reduces them to the monstrous forms of the policeman's stretcher, the workhouse omnibus, the prison van, the scaffold, the hearse that bears to the grave ere men have lived out half their days. Have nothing to do with that which will not bear the test of time. Things that are seductive in certain hours and moods of temptation look mean and deadly enough if you wait awhile. Time tries all things and detects the plausibleness which might deceive the elect. There is an illuminating power in time, and it shows up sin as vain, absurd, and contemptible. We wonder that we could ever thus have prayed the fool. Christ alone can strengthen us to live such a life. He knows what "the chariots of the sun" mean — He was tempted by the vision of the kingdoms and the glory of them. He saw and felt the power of the realm of illusion. The arch-sorcerer worked all his spells on the Son of Man — He refused "the chariot of the sun," and followed the call of duty, the path of the Passion. In the strength of the Master take up your cross and follow Him, and you shall find the realities of power, greatness, and everlasting joy.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathanmelech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire.
WEB: He took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of Yahweh, by the room of Nathan Melech the officer, who was in the court; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.