In the second year of Joash... And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.
Christian Observer.This is, in few but comprehensive words, the character of Amaziah, king of Judah. The commendatory part of it is with the sacred chroniclers a sort of general expression for the obedience of Jewish princes, to the laws of God by Moses, especially to the preservation of the Jewish worship, and the proscription of idolatry in their dominions; and governing their kingdom by these laws, was doing right in His sight. Some monarchs have this commendation, qualified, or with a notice added, that it must be in their case understood with some considerable limitation or restriction. Thus it is said of King Jehoash, that he did that which was right before the Lord, while he remained under the direction of Jehoiada. Thus again, of Amaziah in our text, that he did that which was right, yet not like David his progenitor; or not with a perfect heart, with true sincerity and unreservedness of purpose. He was, at the best, of a mixed character; unsound in principle, and thus unstable in well-doing. It was the exhortation of Jehovah to the Jewish patriarch, that he should walk before Him and be perfect; or, as the word means, unfeigned and upright, in obedience to His commandments. Hezekiah pleads it in the extremity of his affliction, that he walked before Him with a perfect heart. And Asa's heart is said to have been perfect with Him, or devoted to Him, while he sat upon the throne of Judah. A deficiency, therefore, in soundness of religious principle and feeling is denoted by a heart not perfect with Him. It is so denoted m the case of Solomon, upon his falling off to idol worship; as, in this place, of that unfaithfulness of Amaziah which was manifest by his inconstancy of life.
1. The first thing which requires notice in the history of Amaziah, is his conduct in the punishment of those who slew his father, Joash. Amaziah's conduct in this instance received unqualified approval. He discharged with fortitude the duty of a prince, in bringing the criminals to justice; and as they were men of power and credit in the realm, it was attended with some danger; hut he avoided all indulgence of revenge, and was content with punishing the murderers alone, although, according to the practice of those times, he might have sacrificed their children also to his vengeance; and in this he had respect, we are informed, to the provision of that law of God, a law in those days greatly disregarded, which forbids that children should be punished for the crimes of their parents. It may always be considered a hopeful sign, when a regard is felt and manifested for the precepts of the word of God as opposed to common practice; and it is still more hopeful, if, in such a case, the influence of strong passions is on the side of custom, and prompts to the breach of God's commandments. The moderation of this young prince, on religious grounds, was a presumptive evidence that he was partly sincere, although but partly, as appeared soon after. And thus many who prove afterwards unsound, have, in early years and in important instances, perhaps given proof of some hopeful principles, and promises of a life of piety and true obedience to God. And the conclusion to be drawn from this fact is, that the promise thus held out by favourable beginnings, or on some particular occasion, is not to be too confidently trusted. The more mixed and chequered any character is found to be, the more doubtful the evidence of its Christian integrity.
2. The next incident on record of the conduct of this prince is one in which we have a glimpse of a wrong disposition even while he in act obeyed the command of God, and this is a point of some importance. Being engaged in a war against the Edomites, and having raised three hundred thousand men of his own kingdom for this purpose, he proceeded further to augment his force by hiring a large army of Israelites. That people, being at this time idolators, lay under the displeasure of God; and on this ground, when the expedition was about to march, a command was sent from Jehovah by a prophet to the king, enjoining him, as he expected the Divine protection, to dismiss these hired legions; for the Lord, said the messenger, is not among them. "But, if thou wilt go, do it, and be strong for battle. God shall make thee fall before the enemy." And here it was that feelings were betrayed which indicated Amaziah's weakness. A considerable sum was given in part of payment of these hired troops; and the first thought in his mind upon receiving such a message was the great loss to which his obedience would expose him. A mind truly devoted to the service of God would not have harboured such a thought; and much less would it have dared to urge such an objection in reply to the Divine command. This showed that worldly motives were of weight with him against religious principle: a disposition was evinced to weigh the loss or inconvenience with the clear duty of obeying. There was not that prompt decisive resolution which a heart upright before God would have conceived and taken on these circumstances. And although he did at length comply on being promised compensation, yet his hesitation in complying was at least an unfavourable symptom. He thus manifested that defect as well of soundness as of firmness of religious principle which led afterward to fatal errors. It will happen frequently that men who are but half sincere, give certain indications of this state of mind before they yield to temptation. There is inclination shewn, as in the instance now before us, to raise difficulties and to make objections; to indulge complaints and murmurings perhaps, rather than yield at once, and with the singleness of a devoted and an upright heart, to the authority of God in His commandments. "What will the consequences then be if I obey? Am I to lose the pains and cost I have been at in forming such a project; or some plan, suppose for profit, pleasure, or ambition, which must not be carried further? How is such and such a detriment to be repaired: or such and such an inconvenience to be avoided. How am I to be set free from the connections, or get rid of the engagements, I unhappily have formed for purposes which I am called on to abandon? On what plea, or with what credit, can I now recede, being committed as I am, in such a matter? How, in short, shall I escape embarrassing vexation, if I yield to God and to my conscience?" Such are frequently the feelings with which His precepts are obeyed by persons of the character before us. Nay, at last, perhaps, it is fear only which inclines the scale upon the side of duty. Amaziah, we are told, was threatened with defeat if he persisted in his project. Fear of the wrath of God will, indeed, very commonly remain when every trace of apparent love and obedience to Him has long ceased to be visible. They may, indeed, in a sense, do what is right as to the outward action; but not doing it from a real desire to conform to the will of God, their doing wrong may be expected speedily, nay, is but one step further in declension.
3. The next thing, accordingly, which stands on record of this prince is, that he sinned wantonly and greatly against God, by the introduction of idolatry among his subjects. It had pleased God to give him great success in an expedition into Edom. He had ample compensation for his hundred talents by his acquisition both of honour and of treasure in the contest. But instead of feeling so much the more obliged to serve and honour the great Power who gave him victory on this occasion, and pouring contempt upon those idols which were unable to protect their votaries, he adopted them for his gods, and put contempt upon Jehovah. For he brought the gods of Seir, says the inspired historian, and set them up as his gods; he bowed down before them and burnt incense to them, and built altars for them in his realms, as though it were to them, and not to the Almighty, that he owed his splendid triumphs. The offence was also the more daring on his part, because the king his father had fallen into this very transgression, and was punished for it. But his heart was by these circumstances "lifted up within him." He was now set free from all restraint. He felt himself above religious fears, and was resolved to do not that which was right in the sight of God, but that which was so in his own eyes. It is here to be observed how very easily a fatal turn of character takes place, when minds are in that doubtful undecided state which we have seen was that of Amaziah. But a little increase in the strength of his temptations; or a little more excitement of his passions; or a little wider opening of the door to sin; or but a little more encouragement from bad example; or a little stronger feeling of security, or ground for a presumption of impunity in sinning; and then those who had at the least till now been cautious; who had shewn some reverence for religion and for God, and been unwilling utterly to disregard his word, or to expose themselves to the certainty of his displeasure, may soon become the open violators of the laws; nay, the contemners both of His authority and honour. It Is thus that some, on entering the world, are found to break at once through the restraining influences of a moral and religious education. It is thus that others, having set out decently, and for a time maintained some appearance of godliness, are observed upon some prosperous change of circumstances, or it may be in the course of an advancing fortune, to reverse their life and habits, to neglect religions duties which they were once careful in discharging, to forsake the sanctuary and profane the Sabbath; to break off the intercourse with pious men, and to make light of sacred things; to indulge openly in sinful pleasures, to adopt without scruple the view and maxims of the world, which are subversive of religion; and to show in these and many other ways, that they have utterly cast off their fear of God and their regard to His commandments. Cases like these are very different from those in which good men are, by the violence, or the surprise, or importunity of a temptation, seen to fall occasionally into open sin against their honest and decided resolutions. There the cause is inadvertence, or supineness, or an infirmity, as St. Paul calls it, of the flesh; or a defeat, perhaps, such as the best men have sustained, after long struggling with temptation. Then, moreover, we see speedy recollection and repentance, and no settled change of life and habits such as this under consideration. But in this the heart is secretly disposed to all the sin which follows. There is no strong feeling or resolve against it.
4. There was one step more, and only one, which could aggravate the offences of this monarch. He had not yet openly defied the power of God, when by His prophet He remonstrated against false gods. But the next thing which we find in his unhappy history is, that he at length became so daring in impiety, as to insult and even threaten one of the prophets who was sent to him upon this very errand. "Why hast thou sought after the gods of Seir?" was the awakening demand on this occasion. And it might have been conceived that recollection of the past, and a consciousness of his extreme offence, would have produced some feelings of compunction in a mind which once appeared open to the influences of religion. But the answer was, "Art thou of the king's council?" Are affairs of state any concern of thine? or wilt thou prescribe what gods the king shall adore, or shall set up for worship in his realms? Be prudent and forbear. Why shouldest thou be smitten? which thou wilt be certainly, as he evidently designed to imply, if thou persistest to speak further of the matter. We see here how thoroughly all fear of God was conquered in the mind of Amaziah, and what hardness and insensibility may be induced by habits of sin, even where there were once hopeful appearances of piety. And was this the man who, in his early life, had been so scrupulous in the observance of God's statutes? To despise the message and insult the messengers of Heaven is an excess, on which many who still are great offenders might not venture. Many retain even in their worst wickedness such a degree of at least servile awe for religion as restrains them from such direct and positive affronts to it and its great Author. Though they are not conscientious in obeying His commands, they do not choose to brave His anger. Yet to such a fearful length may sinners go, even though once fearful of offending; nay, disposed to suffer loss rather than wilfully disobey Him. Let us then learn the danger of a heart "not perfect," not truly subdued to the faith of Christ and obedience to God. (Christian Observer.)
I. THE ENORMOUS FREEDOM OF ACTION WHICH HE ALLOWS WICKED MEN. Here we learn —
1. That God allows wicked men to form wrong conceptions of Himself. All these kings, although descendants of Abraham, who was a monotheist, became idolaters. "The high places were not taken away, as yet the people did sacrifice, and burnt incense on the high places." Golden calves, symbols of Egyptian.. worship, were erected at Dan and Bethuel, at the extremities of the dominions. Terribly strange it seems to us that the Almighty Author of the human mind should permit it to think of Him as some material object in nature, or as some production of the human hand. What human father, had he the power, would permit his children to form not only wrong but wicked impressions of himself? For what reason this is permitted, I know not. Albeit it shows His practical respect for that freedom of action with which He has endowed us. Here we learn —
2. That God allows wicked men to obtain despotic dominion over others. All these kings were wicked, Amaziah, Joash, Jeroboam, and Zachariah, and yet they obtained an autocratic dominion over the rights possession, and lives of millions. It is said of Jeroboam, who reigned forty-one years, that he "did evil in the sight of the Lord, and departed not from the sins of his father." Antecedently one might have concluded that if a wicked man was allowed to live amongst his fellows, he should be doomed to obscurity and to social and political impotence, but it is not so, Why? Who shall answer? Another fact is —
II. GOD PUNISHES WICKED MEN BY THEIR OWN WICKEDNESS.
1. A wicked man is punished by his own wickedness. Amaziah's conduct is an example. Elated with his triumph over the Edomites, he sought occasion of war with the King of Israel. He sent messengers to Jehoash, the son of Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, King of Israel, saying, "Come, let us look one another in the face," etc. (vers. 8-14). About fifteen years after his defeat he fled from Jerusalem to Lachish to escape assassination, but the assassin pursued him and struck him dead. It is ever so. Wickedness is its own punishment. The wicked passions of a corrupt man are his tormenting devils. Sin is suicidal.
2. A wicked man is punished by the wickedness of others. The thousands of these despotic kings reduced to anguish, destitution, and death, were idolators and rebels against Heaven, and by the hand of wicked men they were punished. Thus it ever is: devils are their own tormentors. Sin converts a community of men into tormenting fiends, man becomes the Satan of man.
(David Thomas, D. D.)
Come, let us look one another in the face.
I. LOOK GOD IN THE FACE. Behold Him as He is. It is, alas, so easy to get wrong conceptions of the Most High, and much enmity to Him has its beginning thus. "They hated me without a cause." If men knew God better, they would dread Him less and trust Him more. "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord." Concerning what? why, the very point of which we have been speaking: false notions of the Lord. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." You fancy Me to be harsh and hard: get rid of that thought; I delight in mercy. To look God in the face is no difficult matter now that Christ has come. He is "the image of the invisible God." See the one, and you see the other. The tenderness which said to a desolate widow in Nain, "Don't cry; I will raise your son"; the power which subdued the crested waves and-hushed the roaring winds by a single word; the holiness which took no taint from contact with publicans and sinners — reveal the attributes of Jehovah. Agnosticism erect again the ancient Athenian altar, and writes on it, "to the Unknown God."; but Paul still cries, "Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you."
II. LOOK YOURSELF IN THE FACE. "If any be a hearer of the word, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass." by the light of Scripture we may see our own characters; and this self-scrutiny is eminently important. Socrates said: "We should not live a life which is not subject to examination." for lack of this, some are astoundingly ignorant of their true condition. What they say to others might well be spoken of and by themselves, "I have not the pleasure of knowing you." Nathan proved this in respect of David, and the very church which thought that it had need of nothing was pronounced by Christ "poor and miserable, and blind, and naked." As it is in the literary, so it is in the moral world: authors are often bad judges of their own productions. John Foster wished that he could write like Johnson or Young, hut the fact is that he wrote better than either. Sir Walter Scott published the "Waverley Novels anonymously, lest they should injure his fame as a poet; but posterity thinks more of his stories than his verses. Something like this holds good of us: we may be ludicrously mistaken regarding ourselves. To avoid such blunders, let us use "the balances of the sanctuary." We should employ the scales and weights which God has provided. Paul told the Corinthians that they were "not wise," because they measured themselves by themselves, and compared themselves with themselves.
III. LOOK MAN IN THE FACE. A needless counsel, some may complain. Don't we do it? Nothing is so common as the wish to see people's faces. We all believe in the vis-a-vis position. The pen is not enough; we want the countenance also. If you hear of a great writer or preacher, you at once want to see him. When we visit friends we call it "going to see them" Nevertheless there is need of the advice: see men. We are much too isolated. English folk are what Matthew Arnold calls insular. If the various classes of society had more intercourse with each other, it would be better for us all round. Were the cultured and intellectual to mingle with Philistines rather oftener, the latter would get a little of their refinement. Communion between the rich and the poor would hardly fail in producing sympathy on the part of the one. and confidence on the part of the other. Christians might learn a lesson here. They keep too much apart. Only lately it was asked at a metropolitan meeting of our denomination — Where now is the continuing in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship of which we read in the early Church? One other thought. How many misunderstandings in social life might be prevented or removed, if we looked each other in the face! You think that a friend is cooler in his manner than of yore, or he has done something which you interpret as hostile to you. Don't brood over it. If you do, your suspicions and imagination will blow the spark into a flame which will consume your comfort. Visit him. Be candid. "Have it out," as we say, and the probability is that a few minutes' plain dealing on both sides will put the whole business right.
(T. R. Stevenson.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar.
Outlines from Sermons by a London Minister.I. THREE THINGS LED TO THE UTTERANCE OF THIS SHORT PARABLE.
1. A relative success.
2. An under-estimate of a superior.
3. An insolent challenge.(1) Success is a relative term, and must be estimated with reference to the circumstances accompanying it. A man who guides his vessel safely across the English Channel achieves a certain success. But this is a short and comparatively easy voyage, and is not to be placed by the side of a successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, in rough and stormy weather. The captain who can bring his vessel safely through the dangers to be encountered in such a voyage, has fairly earned the right to be called successful. It by no means follows that the man who could execute the first would be equal to the second, nor does it follow that a military commander who could defeat the tribes of Africa in battle would be able to gain a victory over the armies of Europe. But this was the conclusion at which Amaziah, King of Judah, had arrived. He had subdued the Edomites and slain ten thousand men, and he therefore concluded that he should be equally successful against the king and armies of Israel, who were much more formidable foes. This conclusion arose from —(2) An under-estimate of his superiors in the art of war. The man who undertakes to swim a river ought to be well acquainted with the strength of the current in comparison with his own bodily .strength. A mistake on these points may be fatal. It is plain that Amaziah undervalued the military strength and capacity of his opponent; for when they did meet, "Judah was put to the worse before Israel, and they fled every man to their tents" (ver. 12). This undervalue of a man who was a greater warrior than himself led to(3) an insolent challenge. "Come, let us look one another in the face" (ver. 8). Success in an undertaking sometimes fills an ignorant man with such an insolent pride, that he thinks nothing can stand before him. Amaziah was such a man, because he had defeated the Edomites, he thought that the army of Israel would be but as chaff before him. Hence his invitation to Jehoash.
II. THE PARABLE BY WHICH JEHOASH REPROVED HIM CONVEYS THAT KING'S SENSE OF HIS SUPERIORITY BY A SIMILITUDE DRAWN FROM NATURE. The contrast between the cedar standing in all its glory upon the mountain of Lebanon and the worthless thistle which has sprung up at its foot is very great, and conveys the King of Israel's contempt for his rival in forcible terms. The cedar of a thousand years could not be uprooted or removed by the strongest earthly power, while the thistle of yesterday was at the mercy of the first beast of the forest who passed by that way. There is also a reference to Oriental custom. The man who asked the daughter of another in marriage was expected to be his equal in rank, otherwise the request was regarded as an insult. Therefore the proposal of the thistle to the cedar is a declaration of supposed equality, and is placed by Jehoash on a level with Ahaziah's challenge to himself. The fate of the thistle sets forth what would be the result of the self-esteem of the King of Judah if he did not take the advice which is the application of the whole. "Tarry at home, for why shouldest thou meddle to thine hurt" (ver. 10).
III. NOTE THE SUCCESS AND THE NON-SUCCESS OF THE PARABLE. It was a success inasmuch as it was a true picture of the character of the man whom it was intended to represent. If those who can give a correct outline of the face upon canvas are regarded as successful artists, those whose word-painting can show us the features of the soul are at least as successful. But it failed in producing a beneficial effect upon the person to whom it was addressed. Amaziah did not wish to see his own likeness. Those who are deformed do not derive pleasure from seeing themselves reflected in a faithful mirror. The parables of Christ often failed to gain the approbation of His hearers on this account. LESSONS:
1. One proud man may become, in the providence of God, the means of humiliation to another. There was much arrogance in the man who compared himself to a cedar, as well as in him whom he reproved.
2. Men who are prone to seek quarrels will find that, in so doing, they have sought their own ruin. Nations and rulers who enter into war from ambitious motives, will but hasten their own destruction. "With what measure ye meet, it shall be measured unto you again."
3. He that has achieved a fair measure of success by the exercise of a fair measure of ability may lose what he has gained by attempting a task beyond his capabilities. A gambler who has won a fortune in a contest with a man no more clever than himself, will most likely lose it all if he attempts to play with a much more skilful gamester. It would have been Amaziah's wisdom to have been content with his conquest of Edom; he would then have been spared the humiliation of a defeat at the hands of the King of Israel.
4. Those who become proud and insolent by prosperity turn a blessing into a curse, and thus defeat the Divine intention. Success in our undertakings is intended to produce gratitude and humility; the fault is in us if these effects are not produced.
5. The great lesson of the history is: that "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).
(Outlines from Sermons by a London Minister.)
Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam.
(F. W. Robertson.)