Commentary on 2 Chronicles
2 Chronicles 21-25
We have seen, then, the sad fruits of a pious man's joining himself with one who is untrue to God - a union which always turns to God's dishonour and the injury of him who loves God, as we find in Jehoshaphat himself. And this, too, not merely that he united with Ahaziah, but where he united even for commercial purposes - one of the most important points for a saint, not only for a Christian, but for a saint before Christianity, where his testimony was separation to God. But the separation of a Christian is of another order - higher and deeper and closer - yet not so external as the Jews'. We might even feel at liberty - as we know the Apostle puts the case - to dine with an infidel. "If thou be disposed to go" - we must take care how we go, and why. Now this might, to the outward eye, seem the very contrary of separateness, and many mistakes are often made in the thoughts of men who judge by outward appearance. But the separation of a Christian is really deeper, although it may not strike the eye as a Jew's. We shall see further proofs of the same evil, for it is a growing one, as the state of Judah became worse and worse before its judgment.
Jehoshaphat's son, Jehoram, reigns in his father's stead. "Now when Jehoram was risen up to the kingdom, he strengthened himself, and slew all his brethren with the sword." 2 Chronicles 21: 4. Such did not Jehoshaphat. Howbeit, although he went even farther than his father in alliance with evil - "for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife: for he wrought that which was evil in the eyes of Jehovah" - yet, "Jehovah would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David" Hence therefore we find that when the Edomites revolted, Jehoram went forth, and smote them. Nevertheless, God chastised him, "the same time did Libnah revolt under his hand, because he had forsaken Jehovah God of his fathers."
We see in all this history how much turns upon the king. It was no question of the people now, for they had completely failed long ago. There is a new trial. Suppose the blessing turns upon - not the people, for, it might be said, there are enormous probabilities against their fidelity; but take the family of a faithful man, take the family of the most faithful man in the deep distresses of evil, David, the progenitor of the Messiah - perhaps, if it turns upon that family, one might be found faithful! Not so; there is unfaithfulness everywhere. There was only one faithful witness, and He was not yet come; but those who preceded Him, and who ought to have been the witnesses of the coming Messiah in truth, only precipitated the downfall, first, of Israel as a whole, then of Judah that remained. Hence Jehoram, we find "made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah [thereto]." For this was part of the wickedness of heathenism - that it made men more immoral than they would have been on principle and as a matter of honour to their gods.
God sent him now a writing from Elijah the prophet, saying, "Thus saith Jehovah God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father's house, which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will Jehovah smite thy people and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou [shalt have] great sickness." And so he was to die, and outward troubles came upon him. "Jehovah stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and of the Arabians." In fine, "Jehovah smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease," and thus he died. "And his people made no burning for him like the burning of his fathers." He had gone on in sin, and he died in sorrow and shame. Such was the end of a son of David, really and literally the son of Jehoshaphat ("Jehovah is judge").
"And the inhabitants of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, his youngest son, king in his stead" (2 Chronicles 22). And "he reigned, . . . he also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab." His mother was that infamous Athaliah, the daughter of Omri. "His mother was his counsellor to do wickedly." "He walked also after their counsel, and went with Jehoram, the son of Ahab, king of Israel to war." That is, the first evil begun by a pious king continues. The practice of his son is far from pious, for the bad example of a good man has immense influence, especially with those who are not good. It hardens them, and therefore works deep and ineradicable mischief. "The destruction of Ahaziah was of God," as we are told, "by coming to Joram: for when he was come, he went out with Jehoram against Jehu." And thus he came under the same judgment.
Athaliah, in resentment, now enters upon a most cruel project - the destruction of the royal seed - for she was an idolatress, and she hated the word and the purpose of God. Who but she could have done it so well; for she had all power, apparently, and she had no conscience. Nay, further, hatred and bitterness filled her heart against the true God and the house of David, although she was herself a mother of that house; but still, what will not hatred of God do in reversing all the affections of nature?
So Athaliah, when she saw that her son was dead, "arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah." But God watched her and led Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, to take Joash, a child, from among the king's sons that were slain, and secretly bring him up. "And he was with them hid in the house of God six years," just as the Lord Jesus is now taken away from the midst of the wicked people who slew Him. For it was not merely a murderous intent as against Joash; but the Lord, as we know, was crucified by the hands of lawless men, and now He is hid in the house of God; but He will as surely come forth from that hiding place as Joash did.
When the seventh year came - the complete time according to the ways of God - "in the seventh year Jehoiada strengthened himself" (2 Chronicles 23). He was the priest. The priest is prominent while the king is hidden. How truly it is so now in our Lord's case - in His own Person combining both the high priest that is in action and the King that will be by-and-by. And then in this chapter we have further, the most animated picture of this stirring scene - the young king now seated on his throne when the due moment was come. The trusty servants that were prepared by the high priest, and finally, the last of her, the murderous queen mother, king-destroyer, Athaliah, and the jubilant cries of Israel. When she comes forth, she comes forth crying "Treason," but in truth it was she who had been guilty of both treason and murder to the full; but we see the purpose of God. There cannot be a more lively proof of how thoroughly we may trust Him, for never seemed a more helpless object than this young king Joash before Athaliah. Never were the fortunes of a king of Judah at a lower ebb; but men have said not untruly that "man's extremity is God's opportunity." This only furnishes the occasion to show the supremacy of God. Nothing can hinder His purpose. How truly, therefore, we should trust Him as well as His purpose. He has a purpose about us, and He Himself has a love to our souls. Why should we not always trust Him?
If Joash was brought thus prosperously to the throne through a sea of royal blood, and if judgment inaugurated the judgment of enemies, and if idolatry was put down, and if all new was apparently so bright and hopeful for the king of Judah, it was but for a passing season. "And Joash did what was right in the sight of Jehovah all the days of Jehoiada the priest" (chap. 24). Yes, but it was more the influence of Jehoiada than faith in the living God. An influence, sooner or later, must fail. The influence of man is not the faith of God's elect.
Jehoiada then passes away, after the king had called him to task; for such was his zeal for a little while. Flesh may be even more zealous than faith, but then there is this difference: faith continues; the effort of flesh is transient. It may begin well, but the question is whether it continues. Its continuance is always the grand proof of what is divine. Joash did not continue according to his beginnings; for we are told that after his fair effort in behalf of the neglected repairs of the house of Jehovah, he relaxed, though this is given more elsewhere than here. But here, even, we find the influences, the malignant influences, of the princes of Judah. "The king hearkened unto them,'' it is said, after the death of Jehoiada. "And they left the house of Jehovah, God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass." Nevertheless, God still testified by His prophets, and more particularly by Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest. "And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones, at the commandment of the king."
What ingratitude! What perfidy toward the son of his own near relative and the guardian of his own life! "Thus Joash the king," says the Spirit of God most touchingly, "remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died he said, Jehovah look upon it and require it." And so He did, for "it came to pass at the end of the year that the host of Syria came up against him, and they came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the princes of the people from among the people, and sent all the spoil of them unto the king of Damascus. For the army of the Syrians came with a small company of men." It was not, therefore, might or power; it was God. "And Jehovah delivered a great host into their hand, because they had forsaken the Jehovah God of their fathers." What was a host against Jehovah guiding His people. but now even a small company overwhelms the great host of Judah. "So they executed Judgment against Joash." Nor was this all, for he was left in great disease, and his own servants conspired against him who had shed the blood of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, and they "slew him on his bed, and he died: and they buried him in the city of David, but they buried him not in the sepulchres of the kings."
Thus we see a downward progress. In the former case they made no burning for Jehoram, as they did for his fathers. Now, they do not even bury Joash in the sepulchres of the kings. And if God gives the names of the conspirators, it was not that He had any complacency in them, though their act might not be without righteous judgment. He lets us know that they were those who had not the feeling of Israel, but the heart of an enemy under an Israelitish name; for Zabad was the son of Shimeath, an Ammonitess, and Jozabad, the son of Shimrith, a Moabitess. On the mother's side, the stock was evil, and a mother has enormous influence for good or evil.
Amaziah follows. "And he did that which was right in the sight of Jehovah, but not with a perfect heart" (2 Chronicles 25). "Now it came to pass when the kingdom was established to him, that he slew his servants that had killed the king, his father. But he slew not their children, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, where Jehovah commanded, saying, The fathers shall not die for the children, neither shall the children die for the fathers, but every man shall die for his own sin. Moreover, Amaziah gathered Judah together, and made them captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds." Thus he strengthened himself after a human sort. He also had a hired army. Mercenaries served him - a strange thing for a king of Judah. "But there came a man of God to him, saying, O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee." For these mercenaries were Israel. How fallen were both - Judah to hire, and Israel to be hired. The only thing they agreed in was indifference to God. What a state for God's people, and do you suppose that it is a strange thing?
Do you suppose that it is different now? Do you think that Christendom is in a better state as Christendom, than Israel was then as Israel? I do not believe so. We, all of us, feel that the ancient bodies are fallen into idolatry - not more truly Israel into the worship of the calves and of Baal, and all the other abominations, than Greek church or Roman into the worship, the one of pictures and the other of images. What difference? Both are idols - equally idols. But it is not merely so; if the Word of God be possessed (as, thanks be to God, it is) in Protestantism, if not in the same way in the older bodies, nevertheless denominationalism has eaten out the heart of the children of God. and their energies go forth in mere efforts, benevolent, excellent; but meanwhile the glory of God is unthought of. It is work now, not Christ; or if there be a thought, it hardly goes beyond the salvation of souls. The glory of God and those that are saved are forgotten. It is not only that we need, therefore a call to the unconverted; we need a call to the converted now. It is they more especially that fail to answer to the glory of God, just as Judah did here.
Here we find them joining, and one of the greatest snares of the present day. People fancy such wonders are to be done because there is a desire after union. Yes, but a union with abominations, a union with infidelity, a union with sacerdotalism, a union with anything under the sun, provided people only unite in good faith. Where is God? Where is the truth?
Where is the grace of God? Where is the place of the Holy Ghost in all this? Not thought of. I say this only because I believe that many persons read these books of scripture without practical profit; or, if they do take any, they fasten upon merely the good points, forgetting that God has a question about the evil, and in a day of evil it is a bad sign to flatter ourselves that we are cleaving to the good, for invariably, where there is evil there must be repentance; and there cannot be a worse sign than putting off, therefore, the solemn lesson that God is reading us about sin. I do not say that to throw it at others, but to take my full share myself; because I am fully persuaded that where there is the strongest desire even to be separated from evil, there will be the deepest feeling of the evil. There was nobody who felt the evil of Israel so much as Daniel, though there was no one who was more personally separate from it. And yet he always says "we." He does not say "you." He does not say, "It is your sin," but "our sin." It is "we have sinned." He held to the unity of the people of God. We ought to hold to the unity of the Church.
And so, in the same way, it is no use for people to say, I have nothing to do with Popery; I have nothing to do with the Greek church; I have nothing to do with ritualism or the like. That is an improper way to speak. We have a great deal to do with them, because all this is done under the name of Christ. It is like a vast company that has got a common share; and we are partners in the firm unless, indeed, we cut the connection; that is, unless we renounce utterly all the shame and sin of the thing before God, but, at the same time, bear the burden of it. Suppose we have renounced the company in matters of action; we ought to feel the shame and the grief of it if we have any love in our souls for them, or any care for the glory of the Lord. I conceive, therefore, that those who read these sad tales of Israel's, and above all, of Judah's, sin, without making a personal application to Christendom - to the state of God's people now - are putting aside a most solemn admonition that God gives for the conscience, and a sign and token too of the analogy between what is new and what was then. The only difference is that we have incomparably greater privileges and, therefore, a deeper responsibility.
Further, the Word of God is explicit that the Lord Jesus is about to return in judgment; and when He does judge, where will His sternest judgment be? On the heathen? On the Jew? No, on Christendom! I grant you that Jerusalem will be the scene of the tremendous judgment of God; but then Jerusalem was the birthplace of Christianity, as well as the capital of Judaism; and I have not the slightest doubt that at that moment when the Lord returns in judgment the same men will have acquired headship over Christendom as well as over the Jews. Things are coming to that now. Ritualism will soon land Christendom into acknowledgment of Judaism. What an amalgam! A hateful amalgam, not merely an amalgam of unfaithful Christians, but even of Judaism along with Christianity, because the false prophet who is destroyed at the end will be setting himself up in the temple of God, and will be acknowledged in Christendom as well as by the Jews. This is a tremendous catastrophe to look onward to, and I have no doubt of it; and this shows, therefore, how truly the wickedness of Israel portends also not only their future wickedness, but that which is found in Christendom. All will be united in this dreadful union at the close.
Well then 2 Chronicles 25 shows us the end of Amaziah after his unholy union with Israel - bought to their own shame, but to his greater shame who could employ them - and the end is strife between the two who had unlawfully joined. And further, Judah who ought to have been the more faithful, as they had the truth in a way that Israel had not, are put to flight before the men of Israel.
What confusion when God was obliged to be against His people - when God was morally compelled to smite even those who had most of His sympathies, but now the more guilty, just because they had more light!
2 Chronicles 26-29
Then follows Uzziah (chap. 26). "And he did that which was right in the sight of Jehovah, according to all that his father Amaziah did. And he sought God in the days of Zechariah who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought Jehovah, God made him to prosper. And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and break down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines. And God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gur-Baal, and the Mehunims. And the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah: and his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt; for he strengthened himself exceedingly. Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the corner gate, and at the valley gate, and at the turning of the wall, and fortified them. Also he built towers in the desert, and digged many wells: for he had much cattle, both in the low country, and in the plains: husbandmen and vine dressers in the mountains, and in Carmel: for he loved husbandry. Moreover, Uzziah had a host of fighting men" - a standing army.
All this, no doubt, looked fair. "But when he was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against Jehovah his God, and went into the temple of Jehovah to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of Jehovah, that were valiant men: and they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah to burn incense unto Jehovah, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from Jehovah, God. Then Uzziah was wroth," and although he stood with a censor in his hand, even at that moment, "the leprosy rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of Jehovah from beside the incense altar. And Azariah, the chief priest, and all the priests, locked upon him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because Jehovah had smitten him." It was a signal judgment, even in this day of weakness and unfaithfulness. So he lived a leper to the day of his death.
His son Jotham (2 Chronicles 27) follows in the right way in a measure as his father did. He entered not into the temple of Jehovah as his father had done; but the people did yet corruptly. However, he builds and wars and becomes mighty, because he prepared his ways before Jehovah his God.
Jotham dies, and Ahaz succeeds him - an impious son who "walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim" (2 Chronicles 28). Not satisfied with that, he, even as we know, brought down the pattern of a new altar from Damascus into the very house of God; but God smote him. "Pekah, the son of Remaliah, slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken Jehovah God of their fathers." And so we find further sorrows without end upon Ahaz, so that in the extremity of his distress he sends for a little help to the king of Assyria, only to add to his sorrows.
I need not dwell upon this, though it is one of the most important points in the history of Judah; for it was the great crisis when the magnificent burst of prophecy came from God. Isaiah had began, no doubt, before, in the days of Uzziah and Jotham; but it was in Ahaz's time that the prophecy of Emmanuel was given; yea, it was to Ahaz himself. What grace! that a wicked man should bring forth from God the distinctest pledge of the glory of the Messiah! Yet, so it was. How completely God moves above the evil of man! And if God be so to the evil, what is He not to the righteous? How should we not then ever confide in His love?
Ahaz, after a most distressful as well as guilty reign, comes to his end; and Hezekiah reigns in his stead (2 Chronicles 29). Here we have a man of faith - a man of singular confidence in the Lord - and Hezekiah "in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of Jehovah and repaired them." There was no time lost. In the first year and the first month! "And he brought in the priests and the Levites and gathered them together into the east street, and said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of Jehovah God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of Jehovah our God, and have forsaken Him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of Jehovah, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel. Wherefore the wrath of Jehovah was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes. For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with Jehovah God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us. My sons, be not now negligent: for Jehovah hath chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that ye should minister unto Him, and burn incense."
What a state! Yet there was the law; but such was the practice. The people of today wonder at the departure in Christendom since the time of the apostles. The departure was not so easy under Israel, because Israel's worship consisted so very much of external observances; and they might be done even by unconverted men. But in the Church everything depends upon the Spirit of God, and therefore the departure is incomparably more easy in the Church than it was under Israel. Yet people wonder that the Church has gone astray. To what purpose have they read their Bibles, and why has God given us this most solemn departure in Israel but to warn us of ours? Has He not in the New Testament put forward prophecy after prophecy of the departure that He saw at hand? "Otherwise thou shalt be cut off." What did it depend upon? On what condition? Except the Gentile continued in the goodness of God, he should be cut off like the Jew. Has the Gentile continued in the goodness of God? Is Protestant devotion and the splitting up of the Church of God without a care? Is Popish or Greek idolatry continuing in the goodness of God? The Gentile has not continued in the goodness of God, and must be cut off no less than Israel and Judah.
Well, here was a pious man; and what a mercy to think that God raises up individuals in Christendom, as He did in Israel. But you will observe this: no piety of Jehoshaphat, no faith of Hezekiah, turned the current of evil. There is a stay: they find a footing in the midst of the current and they resist it. They are sustained of God, but the current of evil still passes on till it ends in the gulf of judgment. And so we find now. Hezekiah no doubt gave a fair and beautiful promise of a better day. But it was only the morning cloud and passing dew; so he calls upon them not to be negligent, and the Levites answer to his call to cleanse the house of Jehovah.
This was the great thing. It was not merely personal cleansing, but cleansing the house of Jehovah. The house of Jehovah answers to our being gathered together. It is not enough to be personally pure; we ought to be pure in our associations; we ought to be pure in our worship. If there is anything in which we ought to be pure, it is in the worship of God. I cannot understand the piety of persons that are content with what they know is wrong in the worship of God. It seems to me sadly inconsistent, to say the least. I know there are difficulties. Faith always has difficulties but faith always surmounts them. So it was with Hezekiah. No doubt it seemed a very strange thing to be blaming everybody for so long a time; but he did not think of that, and I am persuaded that Hezekiah was not a high-minded, but a most lowly man. It is a mere stigma and calumny to call faith proud. The world always does. Christians ought not to do so; they ought to know better.
So they began on the first day of the first month. What alacrity! "Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of Jehovah: so they sanctified the house of Jehovah in eight days; and in the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end." v. 17. Then they went unto Hezekiah the king and told him. Hezekiah prepares accordingly. "Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city and went up to the house of Jehovah." It is all the same stamp. It was a man filled with a sense of the glory of God, and there was not a moment to be lost. If I want to obey, why should I not begin at once? What am I waiting for? "And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and, seven he-goats, for a sin offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary and for Judah. And he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of Jehovah. So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received the blood and sprinkled it on the altar: likewise, when they had killed the rams they sprinkled the blood upon the altar: they killed also the lambs and they sprinkled the blood upon the altar. And they brought forth the he-goats for the sin offering before the king and the congregation; and they laid their hands upon them. And the priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel."
Let me call your attention to what is said here - "for all Israel," as we also have it in the 21st verse - "for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah." Not for Judah only, but for the whole nation, Israel and Judah. This is a fine action of Hezekiah's faith. Personally pure and devoted in his own sphere, his heart went out toward all that belonged to God. They might be idolaters, but he makes an atonement. The more, therefore, they needed the atonement, the mare they needed that others should feel for them if they felt not for themselves and for God.
And so we should feel now. We ought not to care merely for the Christians that we know. Surely we ought to love them; but our hearts ought always, in private and in public, to take in the whole Church of God. We are never right if we do not. There is sectarian leaven in our hearts if we do not go out toward all that are of God. So with Hezekiah. It was for all Israel - for the king commanded. It was the king, you see. The priests, no doubt, did not think about it. They were so accustomed merely to offer up sacrifices for Judah that they, no doubt, never thought about "all Israel"; but the king did. "The king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel." And everything was done in its proper order. There was no neglect of what was seemly or decent. "And he set the Levites in the house of Jehovah with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet; for so was the commandment of Jehovah by His prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of Jehovah began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded, and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped. Moreover, Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praises unto Jehovah with the words of David, and Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped."
And thus all was done in beautiful order and, as we are told in the last verses, "the service of the house of Jehovah was set in order. And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly." But it was none the worse for that. There had been nothing like this since the days of king Solomon; so long had care for the house of God fallen into disuse.
2 Chronicles 30-31
But Hezekiah was not content with this (chap. 30). "He sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh that they should come to the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem to keep the passover unto Jehovah God of Israel." This seemed, no doubt, a very bold thing, and I have not a doubt that they considered that the king was behaving in a very presumptuous manner. What business had he to send to all Israel? He was only the king of Judah! Why should he not be content with his own people? He was proselyting. They did not like it. They thought it was exceedingly improper to be taking away the Israelites to Jerusalem. But Hezekiah was thinking of God. Hezekiah was filled with a sense of what was due to the claims of Jehovah. Jehovah had set His house in one place for all Israel.
Now there is nothing that gives a person such boldness as this, and nothing, also, that sets love to work so earnestly as this. If we are merely contending for doctrines of our own, it does seem rather strong to expect other people to receive them. If it is merely my own doctrine, I had better make myself happy with my own affairs. But if it is God's grace, if it is God's worship, if it is God's way, has it not a claim upon all that are God's? The moment you see that, you can go forward; and you can appeal to the conscience of all that belong to God, that they should be faithful to God's own will and Word. And what I want the children of God to see now clearly, and all the children of God as far as He is pleased to give it efficacy, is that they are set not merely upon something better than what other people have, but upon what is God's will, because that must be the best of all; and inasmuch as they have got the Bock of God, they can see and are responsible to find this out for themselves. Anything that is herein has a claim upon a child of God - and more particularly as regards the worship of God. I grant you that in human things what is of man has a claim; but not so in divine things. "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
I think it was in this spirit, therefore, not trying to be a Caesar over Israel, or even recalling Israelites to their allegiance to himself, which perhaps he might have done, that Hezekiah so acted. He was a man of faith, and he knew well that it was of God, the rending of the ten tribes from the house of David; and therefore he did not ask the tribes for himself, but he did ask them for God. He sent out "to all Israel and Judah" (chap. 30). And so should we do now. We ought not to desire the world. Let men, if they will, seek the world and the pretended worship of the world. Let them seek "the masses," as they say. Let them have the masses if they will, and if the masses are weak enough to follow them. But the business of faith is to call upon all who have faith in the name of the Lord, and to get them to follow His Word. So did Hezekiah now, according to what God gave him. "And the thing pleased the king and all the congregation." What I call your attention particularly to is this: nobody thought of all this for all these years - nobody thought of it but Hezekiah. The more you draw near to God, the more you love the people of God. It was because God was so great in Hezekiah's eyes that the people of God were so dear to Hezekiah; and so he claimed them for God, and called them to come out from their abominations. "They established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel from Beer-sheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto Jehovah God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written!" How quickly people departed from what was written!
"So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel" - not merely, "Ye children of Judah," but "Ye children of Israel" - "turn again unto Jehovah God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and He will return to the remnant of you that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria. And be not ye like your fathers and like your brethren which trespassed against Jehovah God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation as ye see. Now, be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were but yield yourselves unto Jehovah, and enter into His sanctuary, which He hath sanctified for ever." God's principles do not change. It is all a mistake that because the apostles are gone, the apostles' truth is gone. Not so; it abides, and forever. It is always binding on the people of God. So here with the sanctuary in Jerusalem. "So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them."
As it was then, so it is now. The more true, the more it be according to God, so the more is the contempt of men who have chosen to blend the world with Christ. "Nevertheless, divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem." In the most unlikely and distant quarters, and where no one could possibly look for them, there are those that have humbled themselves and have come. "Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king, and of the princes, by the word of Jehovah." And there they assembled. "And they arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away and cast them into the brook Kidron. Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month, and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of Jehovah, and they stood in their place" - because this was in consequence of some not being ready. The priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently. The second month was the gracious provision that God made in the case of uncleanness in the wilderness, as we may see in Numbers 9: 10, 11.
How good is the word of the Lord! They must keep the passover; but, on the other hand, they could not keep it if they were unclean. This provision came in, therefore, when they were consciously unclean, that they might purify themselves and keep it so new. But there is no lowering the standard. There ought to be consideration for the weakness, and there is given them time to learn; but the standard must not be lowered. And so we find, further, that "the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised Jehovah day by day, singing with loud instruments unto Jehovah. And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites"; and, in fact, there was a happy and a holy time come, "for Hezekiah king of Judah did give to the congregation a thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; and the princes gave to the congregation a thousand bullocks and ten thousand sheep: and a great number of priests sanctified themselves. And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced. So there was great joy in Jerusalem."
In the next chapter (2 Chronicles 31), we find that this faithfulness on the part of the Jews of Judah gave a great impulse to their fidelity. True faithfulness always flows from faith, and if we are right in the worship of God, we shall seek to be right in our walk. A low worship always goes with a low walk. It would be an awful thing and most condemnatory if there was carelessness of God's worship and a want of care of our personal ways and walk. We have to see to that. "Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his own possession, into their own cities. And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests," for he was not content with what he had done. He carries out the work still more fully. And we are told in the end of the 31st chapter, "Thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before Jehovah his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered."
2 Chronicles 32-36
But now we find the Assyrian (chap. 32). "And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem, he took counsel with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city: and they did help him. So there was gathered much people together, who stopped all the fountains, and the brook that ran through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water. Also he strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers, and another wall without, and repaired Millo in the city of David, and made darts and shields in abundance. And he set captains of war over the people, and gathered them together to him in the street of the gate of the city, and spake comfortably to them, saying, Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is Jehovah our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah." vv. 2-8.
So Sennacherib sends his servants with a most insulting message, and these letters and oral insults were meant to alarm and stir up the people even against the king. "For this cause Hezekiah the king, and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz prayed and cried to heaven. And Jehovah sent an angel which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slow him there with the sword. Thus Jehovah saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib."
We are told very briefly, also, of the sickness of Hezekiah and of the Lord's marvelous recovery of him. "But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up", and even this good king thus brings wrath upon Israel. Again, it is the king that decides all. How blessed when there is a king reigning in righteousness, when all will be decided in favour of the people, without a flaw. That is the purpose of God, and these kings on whom the burden rested then were the witnesses of the King that is coming, for I trust that all here believe that the Lord Jesus will not only be exalted in heaven, but in the earth. It is a great failure in the faith of any man, and a sad gap in the creed of those who do not believe that the Lord Jesus is going to reign over the earth. What has God made the earth for? For the devil? It would look like it if the Lord is not going to reign, for Satan has had it in his own way ever since sin came into the world [of course, within limits]. Is the earth for Satan even in the midst of God's people? Oh, no! All things were made for Christ. All things are by Him. In all things He will have the pre-eminence.
In the dispensation of the fullness of times, all will be gathered under the headship of Christ - not merely things in heaven, but things on earth - and then will be the blessed time which people vainly hope for now - the time when nation will not war against nation, and when men will learn war no more.
There will be such a day; but it is reserved for Christ, not for the Church. It is reserved for Christ when the Church is out of the world. In fact, so far from the Church correcting the world. she has not been able to keep her own purity. The Church has sold herself to the world, and is now merely like all unfaithful spouses that have betrayed their true husbands. Now the world is tired of her, and is beating her away with shame and scorn. This is going on in all lands. The days are fast coming when there will not be a land in the world where the Church - for which Christ gave Himself - is not cast off. I do not say that to excuse the world, but I do say it to take the shame of it to ourselves. For, undoubtedly, had the Church walked in purity, she would never have sought the world's glory, nor have been in the world's embraces, and would never have been exposed to the world's casting her off as a wretched and corrupt woman.
Well (2 Chronicles 33), Manasseh follows this pious king who new has been called to sleep. The ways of Manasseh were first, a most painful outburst of all abomination, yet of the mercy of God at the last. For this very Manasseh, after his sin - after he had made Judah and Jerusalem to sin and do worse than the heathen - is taken by the king of Assyria and carried to Babylon, and there taught with thorns. But in affliction he humbles himself before the God of his fathers and prays to Him; and God heard and brought him back again. "Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah He was God" v. 13. This is a history most peculiar. Others, alas! had begun well and ended ill. He began as ill as any had ever done, and worse than any before; but he had a blessed end. He took away the strange gods and idols which he had himself set up, and the altars that he had made; and he repaired the altar and offered peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve Jehovah. And "so Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house; and Amon his son reigned in his stead." But Amon did that which was evil, according to his father's beginning, not according to his end; "and his servants conspired against him and slow him in his own house, and made his son Josiah king in his stead."
Josiah was a king as remarkable for conscientious service to God as any man that ever reigned in Judah. How remarkable - not, alas! that a pious king should have an impious son, but that an impious father should have a pious son. This indeed was grace.
Josiah, then, and his reformation is brought before us (2 Chronicles 34). He was young when he began to reign - only eight years old - and "in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek alter the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence, and the images that were on high above them, he cut down: and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strewed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars" - nothing could be more thorough-going than this action against the false gods - "and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so did he in the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about. And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem." For, you observe, he goes beyond his own sphere. He goes out into "the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim and Simeon, even unto Naphtali."
There is amazing vigour in this young king. "And in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of Jehovah his God." And God shows him signal mercy, for there it was that the priest Hilkiah found the book of the law of Jehovah given to Moses. "And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of Jehovah. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan." The king hears of it and, just as I have said, his conscience is the remarkable part of this good king; for when he hears the words of Jehovah, he rends his clothes. Had he not been pious? Had he not been faithful? Yes, but he forgot the things that were behind, and he pressed toward those that were before. He did not think of the good that he had done, but of the evil that, alas! was still around him, and of the good that he had not done and that remained before him.
So he sends, saying, "Go, enquire of Jehovah for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the bock that is found, for great is the wrath of Jehovah that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of Jehovah, to do after all that is written in this bock." And God answers his desires. "And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath," and she gives the answer from Jehovah, and the king acts upon it, and humbles himself before the Lord. "And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers."
He too keeps a passover (2 Chronicles 35). He kept it, as we are told, on the fourteenth day of the first month, for now things are more in order as far as this was concerned. The preparations were made more orderly than in the hurried preparations of king Hezekiah, which they were obliged to keep in the second month. This chapter gives us a full account of this striking passover. There was no passover, we are told, like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet. Of Hezekiah's it was said there had been none such since the days of Solomon; but of Josiah's it is said, "since the days of Samuel." We have to go up to earlier times to find with what to compare it. The reformation, therefore, was remarkably complete in appearance. Alas! what was beneath the surface was corrupt and vile - not in Josiah, nor in certain godly ones that gathered in sympathy round the king, but in the mass of the people - and Josiah himself shows, after this, the usual failure of man, for he goes out unbidden against the king of Egypt when he had come against Charchemish. And, though he is warned by Pharaoh that he does not wish to fight with him, Josiah would not turn back. "He disguised himself that he might fight with him, and 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. His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah." Yet not they only; there was one heart more true than any - Jeremiah. Jeremiah knew from the Lord that there was buried the last worthy representative of the house of David. All that followed was only a shame and a scandal. It was but the filling up of the measure of their sins that they might he carried away into Babylon. Josiah was taken from the evil to come. "Jeremiah lamented for Josiah; and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel; and behold they are written in the Lamentations."
"Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz" - for, indeed, it could not be said to be God now in any sense. "The people of the land took Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, and made him king in his father's stead in Jerusalem. Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 36). And his brother, or near relative at any rate, Eliakim, was made king, with his name changed to Jehoiakim. But as the king of Egypt made him king, so the king of Babylon unmade him; for he comes up and carries him to Babylon, and sets up Jehoiachin his son in his stead. And he too did what was evil and was brought to Babylon; and Zedekiah his brother, as we are told, was made king over Judah and Jerusalem. He brings the disasters of Jerusalem to their last crisis, for he it was who was sworn by the oath of Jehovah, and broke it, and gave the awful spectacle before the world, that a heathen had more respect for the name of Jehovah than the king of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar trusted that that name, at least,- would have moral weight. Zedekiah feared it less than Nebuchadnezzar. Impossible, therefore, that God should allow such a stain to remain upon the throne and the house of David; so destruction came to the uttermost, and the last portion of Judah was swept away by the Chaldees, and the land must enjoy her sabbaths, "for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath to fulfil threescore and ten years." And thus we see them back in captivity till God raises up Cyrus to make the way back for a remnant of Judah.
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