Some Lessons from the Chronicles (Part 4)

Harry Lacey, Cardiff

Part 4 of 7 of the series Some Lessons from the Chronicles

JEHOSHAPHAT

The Epochs of His Reign, The 25 years of Jehoshaphat's reign divide naturally into five periods. In them different influences produced very different results. During the first, devotion to the Lord resulted in the establishment of the kingdom in his hands (2 Chron. 17. 1-5); but in the second, affluence and pride led him to an affinity with Ahab (18. 1-3) which was denounced by Jehu as helping the wicked and loving those that hate the Lord (19. 1-3). This was followed by a time of recovery, which probably resulted from this salutary ministry of the man of God (19. 4-11). In the fourth period a time of serious national emergency arose through an invasion of his kingdom by a confederacy of nations, which might never have occurred except for the weakening of his position through his folly with Ahab, Nevertheless, united earnest prayer transformed this occasion so that it became one of the great deliverances of the Bible (20. t-34). Seemingly because of his desire to amass wealth, the last phase of his reign saw him launch a foolish and unnecessary commercial venture, which involved another link with the ungodly and ended even more disastrously than the former association with Ahab (20. 35-37).

These alternating bright and dark periods in the life of a good man show the strange variety of traits in a human character. They reveal how unstable a man apparently devoted to the will of God may be, and what influences played upon the weaknesses of one of Judah's good kings.

More is made of Jehoshaphat's weaknesses in The Kings than in The Chronicles, Four affinities with evil are noted in the former, but two only in the latter. Life seems capable of assessment from more points of view than one.

The Establishment of His Kingdom. Jehoshaphat did not take his ideas from the things that were current in his time. He was no modernist. For his conceptions of the kingdom and of the house of the Lord, he went back to the ways that were established by David, the man after God's own heart. Consequently, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, the Lord was with him (17. 3). Other ways of belief and practice had arisen, especially in Israel, but these he repudiated and strengthened himself against them and against those who promoted them.

The lesson to be learnt from the emphasis upon "the first ways" is the importance to us of original conceptions of faith and practice. It cannot be obedience to the Lord to form our ideas of faith and ecclesiastical procedure from our own observation of present things and our own deductions from them. The early centuries and even the closing decades of the first one are not fit precedent, for in them beliefs and practices had arisen which compromised the principles of Christ and His apostles. Resort to nothing later than the first ways, which are clearly taught in The Acts and The Epistles of the New Testament itself, will ensure for us the desirable and distinctive features that are said to have marked the first phase of Jehoshaphat's reign: "The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because-he walked in the first ways …" (17. 3).

His walk in these ways seems to have consisted in refusal of idolatry, purity of devotion, and simplicity of obedience. This resulted in not only the Lord's being with him, but also, and as the result of this, his kingdom was established, his people appreciated him, wealth and honour were thrust upon him, and his heart was lifted up (encouraged) in the ways of the Lord (17. 6). There can be no real doubt that these results were worth more to this ruler and his people than they could possibly have cost him or them. Nor can there he any real question that such things are worth infinitely more now, in our own time, than they could cost us in devotion to the Lord.

His wisdom in this opening phase of his reign is further manifested in the way that he sent princes and priests throughout all the cities of Judah with the whole book ofthe Law to teach amongst the people (17. 7-9). Concerted practice in the first ways was scarcely possible apart from such thorough-going teaching of the Word of God. But as the result of it the fear of the Lord spread amongst the people, a time of peace and honour ensued, and mighty men were raised up for the kingdom, for Jehoshaphat, and for the Lord and His house.

The teaching of the history seems clearly to be, that development of power, increase of prestige and the rise of mighty men, are connected with the thoroughness and spread of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in the rela­tionship of cause and effect. The history of churches demonstrates that the same cause produces the same effects. When the quality of exegesis rises, the scope of the knowledge of the Lord expands and practical obedience increases, these desirable results follow as certainly as day follows night. But should the quality of Bible teaching fall, its scope be narrowed and its spread limited, com­mensurate loss of these features inevitably ensues. The cycles of God's governments are explained to us by means of these histories to encourage us to sow the seeds which produce these harvests that are so desirable to God and to men.

Affinity with Ahab. The next phase of the reign of this good man was as sad as the first was happy. He joined affinity with Ahab. Ahab was a man of loose character, careless of God's principles, and indifferent to the world's evils. He had brought from heathendom a woman who, sharing his throne, naturally influenced him and his kingdom greatly. And yet Jehoshaphat, when he had riches and honour in abundance, joined affinity with this man. So completely did he fall to the seductions and flatteries of Ahab's court that oblivious to the moral and spiritual differences between them, he said, " I am as thou art, and my people as thy people." The differences between the two men and the two peoples had existed for generations, and were fundamental. Yet affluence, pride and flattery blinded Jehoshaphat to them. We are not surprised that the military expedition that followed ended disastrously, God could not bless sounrealistic an association. Indeed, Jehoshaphat was fortunate to escape with his life and his kingdom.

The folly of forgetting vital differences can be repeated. Such differences exist in Christendom now. There are those like Israel who for various reasons do not feel bound to obey the Scriptures in matters of faith and ecclesiastical practice, and there are those like Judah who endeavour to cleave to the Scriptures in all matters of belief and procedure. Is it possible for the latter to say of the former, "I am as thou art"? Can those who believe in the Deity of our Lord Jesus be one with those who deny it? Is it possible for those who hold the full inspirational value of the whole of the Bible to share fully with those who reject it wholly or in part? Is it possible for those who repu­diate clerisy, on the ground that it sets aside the function­ing in the churches of the priesthood of all believers and limits ministry to those ordained by men according to human standards, to be really at one with those who insist upon such distinctions – which are clearly contrary to apostolic teaching and therefore unacceptable to the Lord Himself?

Though unities may be attained by assuming silence on certain doctrines and practices that have become controversial, it is scarcely possible for these to be "the unity of the faith" (Eph. 4, 13), seeing that such silence com­promises parts of the faith. Any unity upon the ground of existing common factors, which at the same time neces­sitates silence upon matters clearly and plainly stated in the Scriptures, such as Baptism, the Lord's Supper and ministry in the churches, seems unrealistic and, further­more, might be treasonable.

Moreover, it is likely that the highest common-fact or unity of to-morrow will have fewer Scriptural factors in common, because silence in regard to points of doctrine and practice allows these points to recede.

It seems wiser to recognize the great fundamental differences that exist, and to limit the attempt to resolve them to the encouragement of spiritual growth, a fuller apprehension of the truth revealed in the Word and a fuller obedience and conformity to it in general and eccle­siastical practice.

Neither Israel's kingdom nor Judah's was extended by this affinity and the military expedition to this end. Would that the issues ended there, but the moral nature of the universe in which men live permitted it not. The con­sequences of Jehoshaphat's defection affected succeeding generations, Jehoram, his son, married Ahab's daughter; through her influence, the evils of heathendom were admitted to the kingdom of Judah. In the next generation, Ahaziah, Jehoram's son, walked in the ways of Ahab because "his mother (Ahab’s daughter) was his counsellor to do wickedly" (22. 3). Furthermore, it was this wicked woman who caused the murder of the seed royal, and thus in her evil spleen would have exterminated the godly line for the throne and, indeed maybe, the direct line from Adam to Christ.

Who knows if this were not a piece of the great adversary's master strategy? If he used this train of events and a wicked woman, God had a good woman, Jehoshabeath (22. 11), to counter this last move and preserve the boy-king Josiah. A study of the several parts these and other women played will be developed later.

It is evident from this record and the survey of these generations that the profits of association with those who compromise the will and word of God are nil, and that evil effects can remain, to blight succeeding generations. It is better to learn this lesson from observation than from experience, which must be bitter for us and for those who follow us.

The only time Elijah is mentioned in The Chronicles is in connection with the stern rebuke he wrote to Jehoram, Such a word from a man of God from the lower kingdom should have proved most humbling, but it produced no effect upon the incorrigible Jehoram, who eventually died miserably and passed from the stage deservedly unlamented and unhonoured (21. 19-20).

A Period of Recovery. Though posterity suffered through Jehoshaphat's defection, recovery was granted to him, probably on account of Jehu's salutary ministry (19. 1-3). During this third period of his reign he set judges in the land and encouraged them and the prieststo execute the judgments of the Lord in all matters between man and man and between man and God (19. 5-11).

The establishment of these priests seems to have its counterpart in the New Testament order for churches, for amongst the several ministries indicated therein we read of " governments " (1 Cor. 32. 28). The word (kubernesis) means steering or pilotage, and is used metaphorically of those who have so learned the ways of God themselves as to be capable of steering their fellow-believers through their personal difficulties and of piloting the Lord's people along the dangerous channels and past the rocky reefs of experience through a seductive world. Happy is the assembly that possesses such helps.

The Great Invasion. Although the recovery and return to godlier ways must have had its reward, the affinity with Ahab and the consequent military defeat seems to have weakened Jehoshaphat's position amongst the surrounding nations. Formerly they would hardly have dared to attack him, but now his enemies multiplied and the Moabites, Ammonites and others became con­federate to do him harm. It is probable that Psalm 83 was written at this time. (Perowne's treatment of the date of this Psalm in his useful work on The Psalms is worthy of consideration, and a study of the Psalm with its aid will richly repay the labour.) If this is so, no less than ten nations were allied to cut off Judah from being a nation and to stamp out the name of Israel for ever. Such extermination and utter obliteration is Satan's real desire against every genuine Christian testimony, whether personal, domestic or ecclesiastical. But be it said to the credit of Jehoshaphat, though faced with so formidable an array, he did not panic nor rush to seek human aid. He feared—as well he might—but his fear drove him to God. He set himself to seek the Lord and proclaimed a fast: Jehoshaphat and all Judah with their wives, their children and their little ones (20. 3-13). These united earnest prayers were answered swiftly. The Lord instructed them how to act in the emergency (20. 14-17} for He ever gives wisdom to those who ask (Jas, 1. 5-8). The Spirit of God came upon a prophet who encouraged their hearts and conveyed the message in such a way that they went intobattle with the song of victory upon their lips. God vindicated His word and their faith in it. Their enemies were soon routed, and God gave Jehoshaphat rest and his realm was quiet (20. 30).

His experience makes the soul feel a fresh sense of how mighty the weapon of prayer is, which God has placed in our hands also, for us to use in every emergency, and not only in emergencies but in all circumstances ere an emer­gency arises. It has accomplished more than the human wisdom of all ages pooled together, and more than the combined might of all the armies of earth. It is distinc­tively the weapon of the weak, the resource of the simple and the natural instalment of the Christian at all times (Lu. 18. 1). It glorifies God (2 Cor. 1. 11 with Rev. 5. 8), affects the unseen world (Dan. 10. 3, 12-14), sets in motion measureless power (2 Chron. 32. 20-2]), heals sicknesses and relieves oppression (Jas. 5. 13-18), restores backsliders (1 Jn. 5. 13-16), and is the great means of bringing about spiritual progress in the Lord's people (see Eph. 1. 15-21; a 14-21 and Col. 1. 28 to 2. 3). The true order is prayer and ministry of the Word, and not the reverse {Acts 6. 4), Every element in the drama of this stage of Jehoshaphat's reign combines to urge us to ask afresh: " Lord, teach us to pray," and encourages us to learn anew the lessons of the three parables that Christ—the Man of Prayer—gave (see Lu. II. 2-13 ; 18. 1-8 and 9-14). (to be continued)