CHAPTER 21. —KINGDOM OF JUDAH
We next look at a few illustrations of the ways of providence in the history of the kingdom of Judah. they are not numerous, but they are distinct and yield the lesson plainly read in the history of the Ten Tribes and of Israel before the division. We have already noticed the case of Rehoboam at the rupture of Solomon’s kingdom into two—how an unwise speech was “of the Lord” that there might be brought about the division determined on as a punishment of Solomon’s sins. We now look at an incident in Rehoboam’s reign.
We read that—
“When Rehoboam had established the kingdom and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him” (2 Chronicles 12: 1).
The result was that so early as the fifth year of his reign,
“Shishak, king of Egypt, came up against Jerusalem, . . . and he took the fenced cities which pertained to Judah and came to Jerusalem.”
The explanation of this calamitous occurrence was not long in coming. It came by the hand of the prophet Shemaiah, who, addressing himself to the king and the crowd of princes and influential men whom the fear of Shishak had driven from the open country for refuge to Jerusalem, said,
“Thus saith the Lord, Ye have forsaken Me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak” (verse 5).
This representation of the matter appears to have made a deep impression on the aristocratic auditory of the prophet. We are informed (verse 6) that—
“They humbled themselves and said, The Lord is righteous.”
The result of this attitude on their part is most interesting and instructive, and brings out the point illustrative of the ways of providence:
“When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the Lord came to Shemaiah, saying, They have humbled themselves: therefore will I not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance; and my wrath shall not be poured out upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak” (verse 7).
From this, it follows that Shishak’s movements were divinely directed, though unknown to him: and further, that repentance and humiliation avail to avert the divine displeasure.
Rehoboam does not appear to have permanently benefited by this most interesting episode. We are informed that during his reign of seventeen years, he “did evil,” and “prepared not his heart to seek the Lord,” in probable consequence of which “there were wars continually between Rehoboam and Jeroboam” (verse 15). So much for Rehoboam. We will look at a few of his successors, taking them in chronological order, but not going through every reign.
In the reign of Asa, the second king after Rehoboam, we have this description of the state of things that had prevailed for a considerable time before, and of the results that came of it. The description is by “the Spirit of God,” which “came on Azariah, the son of Obed” (2 Chronicles 15: 1). It may, therefore, receive our unqualified confidence. It is this:
“For a long season Israel had been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law. . . And in those times, there was no peace to him that went out or to him that came in, but great vexations were upon all the inhabitants of the countries; and nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city, for God did vex them with all adversity.”
No peace, and much vexation, and mutual hurt: the people would not be aware that God was complicating their affairs, that God was “distributing sorrows in His anger” (Job 21: 17). They would simply feel irritations and exasperations that would appear natural and justifiable in the circumstances. It was the incipient fulfilment of what God had told them by Moses when they came out of Egypt:
“If thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, . . .the Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do. . . . A trembling heart and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind, and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life” (Deuteronomy 28: 15, 20, 65).
It may occur to some that if we are to read providence thus, we have strangely difficult problems to deal with in a world where the wicked are on high and in peace, and the righteous seeking, “through much tribulation,” to enter into the kingdom of God. The explanation is to be found in the fact that God’s providences run in certain well-marked and narrow channels only. Thus, of Israel it is said,
“You only have I known of the families of the earth; therefore, will I punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3: 2);
Whereas, of the Gentiles in general, Paul’s testimony is, that God had “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14: 16). The mass of mankind are as the beasts that perish (Psalm 49: 12-20). God chose Israel for Himself, and made them a kingdom under a divine administration. Therefore, a relapse from obedience was directly visited with evil consequences. The Gentile nations were left with little regulation of their affairs that belongs to limited responsibility. It may be said that this renders the lessons of Israel’s experience valueless to us; the answer is that every obedient believer of the gospel is in the circle of Israel’s privileges in their highest form. Gentiles adopted through Christ are “no longer strangers and foreigners” (Ephesians 2: 19). They are fellow-citizens. They are brought within the channel of divine dealings (Hebrews 12: 7). All things are made to work together for their good (Romans 8: 28; Hebrews 1: 14). The lessons of Israel’s experiences are most valuable to them. They were expressly recorded for their benefit: so Paul says (1 Corinthians 10: 11), consequently, we have to be on our guard. Our sins may bring upon us chastisement to save us from “condemnation with the world” (1 Corinthians 11: 32).
Of Jehoshaphat (fourth from Rehoboam), we read that—
“He sought to the Lord God of his father and walked in His commandments, and not after the ways of Israel.”
With what result? We read this as illustrative of the ways of providence:
“The fear of the Lord fell on all the kingdoms of the land that were round about Judah, SO THAT THEY MADE NO WAR AGAINST JEHOSHAPHAT. Also some of the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat presents and tribute silver and the Arabians brought him flocks” (2 Chronicles 17: 4, 10-11).
A case in the opposite direction is found in Jehoshaphat’s successor, Jehoram, of whom it is testified—
“He wrought that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord,” with this result,
“The Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and of the Arabians that were near the Ethiopians, and they came up into Judah and brake in to it, and carried away all the substance that was found in the king’s house, and his sons also and his wives, so that there was never a son left him, save Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons. And after all this the Lord smote him in the bowels with an incurable disease. And it came to pass that in the process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases” (2 Chronicles 21: 6, 16-19).
In the days of Amaziah, the eighth from Rehoboam, there was an instructive incident. The king set himself to strengthen his army. In carrying out this work, he not only made something like a general conscription of Judah, but—
“He hired also an hundred thousand mighty men of valour out of Israel (the Ten Tribes) for an hundred talents of silver.”
A prophet sought to deter him from this part of the enterprise. He said,
“O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee.”
What objection to the soldiers of the Ten Tribes?
“The Lord is not with Israel—to wit, with all the children of Ephraim” (2 Chronicles 25: 7).
But the king had paid the money for which the soldiers were to be hired. This was a great difficulty with the king, as it would be to most people: in fact it would be considered a fatal objection in any question of duty that might be raised.
“What shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel?”
The prophet’s answer was not a practical one as men think.
“The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.”
Did the king require a final argument?
“If thou wilt go (with the Ten Tribe soldiers), do it: be strong for the battle: God shall make thee fall before the enemy: for God hath power to help and to cast down.”
Amaziah gave in to the force of this argument, which has a strong bearing on the whole question of the ways of providence.
There was a further illustration of the ways of providence in the latter days of Amaziah’s reign—an illustration not so creditable to him as the first recorded (2 Chronicles 25). He had invaded and subdued Edom, and amongst the spoils brought home the gods of the country which with extraordinary blindness—
“He set up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them and burned incense unto them.”
A prophet was sent to him to expostulate against the madness, but the king repulsed the prophet, who said,
“I know that God hath determined to destroy thee because thou hast done this and hast not hearkened unto my counsel.”
A man’s unwisdom may be divinely supplemented and employed as an instrument of destruction. It was so at last with the whole house of Israel, upon whom God poured the spirit of slumber and inspired with a frenzied perversity, which brought about their destruction at the hands of the Romans. So also on the Gentiles, He sent strong delusion that they might believe a lie, because they received not the truth in the love of it when given to them by the ministration of the Spirit in the apostolic age (2 Thessalonians 2: 10-12). Amaziah, on this principle, was moved to get up a military expedition against a neighbouring monarch. This neighbouring monarch endeavoured to dissuade him by sensible advice; but it is written,
“Amaziah would not hear, for it came of God that he might deliver them (Judah) into the hands of their enemies because they sought after the gods of Edom.”
An unwise decision may be “of God”: the case of Amaziah proves it. When it is for punishment it is a terrible thing, for who so helpless as the man who is divinely impelled to his own destruction, and who thinks all the while that he is carrying out only his own masterful will? This view gives peculiar point to the exhortation of Peter, that we should “commit the keeping of our souls to God in well-doing as unto a faithful Creator.”
A similar lesson is taught in the case of Uzziah (Amaziah’s successor), of whom it is recorded that—
“As long as he sought the Lord, the Lord made him to prosper . . . But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chronicles 26: 15-16).
The reign of Ahaz, the second after Uzziah, yields instruction on the general subject. In this reign, it is testified,
“The Lord began to send against Judah, Rezin, the King of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah” (2 Kings 15: 37).
These military intruders would not be aware they were fulfilling a divine work. In this reign also, the Ten Tribes got the upper hand of Judah very wonderfully. The reason was thus explained to the representatives of the Ten Tribes, who contemplated a barbarous use of their advantage:
“Because the Lord God of your father was wroth with Judah, He hath delivered
them into your hand, and ye have slain them with a rage that reacheth up unto heaven. And now ye purpose to keep under the children of Judah and Jerusalem for bondsmen and bond-women unto you. But are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God? Now, hear me, therefore, and deliver the captives again which ye have taken captive of your brethren, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.”
When those thus addressed realised that their victory over Judah was God’s dispensation of bitterness to Judah because of their sins, it modified their feelings greatly, and led to one of the most extraordinary incidents in the history of war.
They “took the captives and with the spoil clothed them that were naked among them, and arrayed them and shod them, and gave them to eat and drink, and anointed them and carried all the feeble upon asses, and brought them to their brethren.”
Thus excellent are the dispositions of men when swayed by reason and the fear of God. The time will come when all men shall thus be animated. How pleasant a place will the earth then be to live in, and how interesting and delightful the race of mankind everywhere! The song of the angels will yet become the true description of affairs on earth. The enchanting performance in the still air of night on Bethlehem’s plains, will not for ever be mocked by the triumph of folly in all earth’s valleys and mountains. When the babe, whose birth they celebrated, reigns omnipotent head of all the kingdoms of the world, the glory of Jehovah will be in the ascendant, and peace and goodwill prevail to the utmost bounds.
The destruction of Sennacherib’s army in the reign of Hezekiah, the successor of Ahaz, belongs to the category of miracles rather than to the ways of providence. Nevertheless, these ways receive incidental illustration in some of the things said and done in connection with that event. First Hezekiah’s own course is worthy of notice. Having received a threatening written summons to submit to Sennacherib, the king of Assyria,
“He went up into the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord and said, O Lord God of Israel, who dwellest between the cherubim, Thou art the God, even Thou alone of all the kingdoms of the earth: Thou hast made heaven and earth. Lord, bow down Thine ear and hear; open, Lord Thine eyes and see, and hear the words of Sennacherib, who hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands (of which Sennacherib had boasted in his letter), and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone; therefore they have destroyed them. Now, therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee save Thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou art the Lord God, even Thou only.”
Here we have Hezekiah in his distress taking refuge in prayer. This is the first thing to be noted by such as desire to learn the lessons of true wisdom from those numerous examples and precepts furnished in the written word. All men of God were like Hezekiah in this: and there is no difference in the family likeness, as time rolls on, though it may be hard to discover it in the unpraying myriads who surround us in this late hour of the Gentile day. The next point is that though Hezekiah prayed this earnest prayer (oh, how impressive in its simplicity, yea how sublime!), he had not left the whole work to God. He had not sat down supinely and done nothing. He had taken wise precautions. When he saw the first indications of Sennacherib’s hostile purpose,
“He took counsel with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were outside the city, saying . . . Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?” (2 Chronicles 32: 3).
Here also we have a lesson. Submit our troubles to God; but do the best we can; and wait the result with readiness to accept whatever He may appoint. This course in Hezekiah’s case resulted in signal interposition. A message came by Isaiah to Hezekiah assuring him of deliverance, which was accomplished almost immediately, in the miraculous destruction of the bulk of the Assyrian host by night. In the course of the message, there are several allusions illustrative of the ways of providence. Sennacherib boasted of his prowess and rejoiced in his greatness, like Nebuchadnezzar, after him, as if they had been the attributes of his own strength. God’s words on this point are these:
“Hast thou not heard long ago how I have done it, and of ancient times that I have formed it? Now have I brought it to pass THAT THOU SHOULDEST BE TO LAY WASTE FENCED CITIES into ruinous heaps. Therefore, their inhabitants were of small power” (2 Kings 19: 25).
Sennacherib was thus informed that his military capacities were of divine institution, for divine purposes. Sennacherib was thus exhibited in the light of a divine instrument for the working out of divine ends, though contemplating only ends of his own. Though a servant of Jehovah in fact, he was by intention an enemy of Him, as Jehovah testifies:
“I know thy rage against Me” (verse 27);
Which is a clear illustration of what we have often seen in the course of these chapters, that men, while acting under their own thoughts and feelings, as they imagine, may carry out a purpose of God of which they had no knowledge and less sympathy; and that a perfectly natural work, to all appearance, may in reality be of divine contrivance and purpose—a lesson valuable in the reading of the Signs of the Times and the interpretation of our own lives.
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