The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he gathered of the house of Judah and Benjamin an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against Israel, that he might bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam.Divine Interposition
2 Chronicles 11
HERE is a king who has made all his arrangements with regard to a certain issue, and as he stands in full equipment for his work it will be instructive to look upon the figure which he makes in history.
"And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he gathered of the house of Judah and Benjamin an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against Israel [a number which does not appear too large according to 2Samuel 24:9], that he might bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam" (2Chronicles 11:1).
Everything is thus set in order, and if heaven helps men who help themselves, there can be no doubt as to the issue of this costly and portentous arrangement. Why does he lose time? With a hundred and eighty thousand chosen men at his command, why does he halt? He might strike, and in one blow win the victory: why does he not uplift his arm, and deliver the fatal and successful blow? Are there some things in life that are not seen? Are there forces that have no definite presence to the naked eye? Are there misgivings of heart? Are there spiritual impressions amounting almost to revelations? There must be: and all these spectral influences have had a wonderful effect upon human action, and upon the whole circle and movement of human progress. Let us call them impressions, curious feelings, incalculable forces; let us strip them of every taint of religious appearance and significance; still, there they are, and they must be accounted for, or left foolishly without any account or exposition. The Bible does not hesitate about the matter. With the frankness of honesty it tells the whole tale. The Bible is never afraid to mention the name of God. Truly it would appear as if it were the only book where he was at home. Other books apologise for him: introduce him with pomp that cannot be real; revere him with worship that must be artificial: but within the sanctuary of the inspired volume God comes and goes and moves with familiarity, with condescension, and yet ever so as to make men think more than they can say.
The explanation, therefore, is to be found in the second verse,—
Pity it is that God seems to allow us to go to such lengths, and then stops us just at the last moment. Everything has been completed, every sword has been whetted, every bayonet has been pointed, every ounce of powder has been flasked; and then he says, Stand still: return to your homes: this is a warfare not appointed in heaven, this is a controversy not signed by the name divine: return, and in silence repent of your folly. It is not a pity that such should be the case, although we have so said as a point of introduction. There is a pity in the arrangement, but it is not on the side of God. It is a pity that we did not consult God before we called the army together. He will be consulted at one end; he wishes to be consulted at the beginning, but if we will not consult him there we must consult him at the end. It is impossible but that the divine will must prevail. "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths:" not, Mark out thy path, create for thyself a way, and when thou hast walked every mile of it ask his approbation upon it,—be not surprised if then he turn suddenly round, and say in the stunned ear, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Our preparations amount to nothing if they are not inspired. All our education comes to smoke and wind if it be not an education derived from the altar and enriched with the wisdom of God. Send out a hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men from academy and college and university, loaded with the blank cartridges of ten thousand certificates and testimonials: if the Lord is not in it he will send them all back again until he calls for their aid. Go not a-warfare at your own charges; run not the race in your own strength; take unto you the whole panoply of God, and gird yourselves in God's presence before running one step professedly on God's business. These great rebukes help us to understand a good deal of the solemnity of life. If the rebukes were little the lessons would be superficial. God allows us therefore to build the tower a long way up. If he overturned the first line or two of bricks we should think nothing of it: he permits us to rear the scaffold and to build quite up in the air, and to really begin to think that we may land in heaven; and then he throws down tower and scaffold and builders, and makes the men who thought themselves wise babble in foreign tongues. It is when he allows us to go a long way on the road, and then turns us back, that we begin to think—happy we if we begin to pray.
"Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren" (2Chronicles 11:4).
Accommodating this expression, we may profitably reflect upon the impiety and the crime of brother fighting with brother in any of the relations of life. This is not a mere question of controversy, interchange of opinion, or conflict of judgment; all this is permissible between the dearest friends; the fighting that is meant is a fight of the soul, a mutual hatred, a deadly animosity, a thirst for each other's blood. We see the vividness of this exhortation when we limit it to two brothers according to the flesh; then how horrible the fratricidal war, how detestable is the spirit that tears one heart out of the embrace of another; thus through the individual we proceed to the race, and through the race even in its social relations we proceed to that higher brotherhood which is independent of place and time and which best represents God's idea of humanity. It is the province of Christ to show that all men are brethren; terms that have been belittled or narrowed or confined within their easily measurable bounds are taken up by Christ and amplified into their proper meaning and responsibility. Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? He that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. Jesus Christ does not come to make little narrow relations of human nature; all these he regards in their proper magnitude and at their proper value, but he seeks to extend the meaning of that which is eternal and local so as to include that which belongs to the whole race and to all lands and times. The first murder was fratricidal. Murder is always a supreme wickedness against God, but when it is the murder of brother by brother it reaches a height of aggravation and perfidy, for which there are no adequate words. The exhortation against fratricidal conflict in a natural or political sense acquires additional significance and pathos in all its moral and spiritual applications. How pitiable is the aspect presented to outsiders when one Christian communion is in conflict with another, and especially when the conflict arises out of differences which are comparatively microscopic and trivial. We are continually exhorted to love as brethren. Jesus Christ makes our mutual love into an argument or a persuasive, desiring in his intercessory prayer that all his disciples might be one, in order that the world seeing their unity might glorify the God of all. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" When the observing world sees the love manifested by the Church of Christ, it may not be able to understand metaphysical theology, or to accept formulated opinion and dogma, but it will be constrained to say, See how these Christians love one another: these men have been with Christ, and have learned of him. Thus it lies within the power of all men to contribute somewhat to the practical and persuasive argument of Christianity.
"So they strengthened the kingdom [not only in an addition of physical strength to the southern kingdom, but in an increase to its moral vigour] of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong, three years [i.e. during the first three years of Rehoboam's reign. In the fourth year an apostacy took place, which neutralised all the advantages of the immigration (see chap. 2Chronicles 12:1). In the fifth the apostacy was punished by the invasion and success of Shishak (2Chronicles 12:2)]; for three years they walked in the way of David and Solomon" (2Chronicles 11:17).
Is it about that time that men's strength gives way, and they begin to long for some other path? Is there about a three-years' staying power in the strongest of us? Does the strength give out then? and do apostles who watch us say, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you? "For three little years they walked in the way of David and Solomon. We do not despise the three years, but we are tempted to wonder at the men who could have three years' approximate good character, and then turn away again. We wonder at the man who can abstain three years from drinking "liquid damnation," and then can begin again his evil course. We do wonder at a man who can read and think and study three years, and then run and join the weltering society of fools. How is it with the soul in this matter of three years? The first year was difficult, the second less difficult, the third was comparatively without difficulty: was it when the difficulty ceased that the old desire returned? Was it when we were about to master the pain of discipline and enter into the liberty of franchise that we bethought us of the flesh-pots of Egypt, and yearned and hungered and thirsted for things forbidden? We thought surely that three years would see an end of the devil within us. Is he dead or only sleeping? Are we just as corrupt as we ever were, only the varnish is thicker? Better be severe and real in our inquiry, and get at facts, than look only at the polish, and not understand the nature of the heart which is thus bedizened and befooled.
There is such a thing as temporary good behaviour; but by temporary good behaviour many men have attained to good conduct that has been permanent. There have been trembling men who have taken some holy pledge for three months. They were not to be sneered at, but to be encouraged. Had we driven them to take the pledge for life, they could not have signed the oath, but they crawled and crept before they stood up to walk: at the end of the three months, friends have said, Why not renew the pledge, say for six months? and the temporariness of the bond has been the success of the appeal. Have not some parents said to sons, Promise to attend the church for one twelve months? Have we not heard a godly parent say, My son has promised to attend the Christian service for one year? and has not the parental countenance beamed with sacred radiance as the promise has been announced? We are, therefore, to conduct ourselves with moderateness and great delicacy of feeling towards men who have said they would try the way to heaven for a year. Who can tell what may happen in that sunny year? Who knows what flowers may be found by the roadside, what birds may sing in the balmy air, what new friendships may be made, what new desires may be inspired and consolidated? Let us have hope in those who have taken a pledge to be better, though in some mechanical way only for three days, three months, three years. A critical time it is no doubt when the last day has come of the allotted space. How hearts at home have quaked, lest that last day should be the farewell of household peace and love and trust! The case has been so delicate that not a word could be said regarding the lapse of time: perhaps the man who took the solemn oath does not know it is the last day, and who would tell him that his time is about expiring? for he is not a prisoner longing to be released, but a free man afraid that his liberty may be violated or abridged. How many poor hearts have sunk in deadly fear lest when the pledge—be it what it may—having been honourably fulfilled as to time, may be abandoned as to discipline! Three years of experimental goodness ought to be three years of personal consolidation. To get three years ahead of the enemy ought to be a great advantage. The doctors say that it requires three years to get drink really out of a man's system, and no man is safe until he has quite passed the line of three years; then the last flickering ember may have died; then the angels may say, Another free man! Are we nearing the lapse of our holy pledge? Is any parent afraid lest tomorrow may see his eldest son, his firstborn child, going back to bondage! These critical times in life are the making of life when they are really seized aright as to their spirit and highest significance. Sometimes we have to share the burden of those whom we encourage in temporary goodness. Have we not heard a friend say joyously, that if we promised to take the pledge along with him he would take it? But the friend had no need of pledges—a strong, wise, clear-headed man, who knew exactly the measure and reckoning of things; yet he said, I will be a kind of surety for him; it may be that my sacrifice will have an influence upon his probity, and thus a weak man may be nursed into a strong one. "By all means save some;" by no means ever sneer at a man who wants to be better if even for twenty-four hours.
Thy will be done. Death is not in thee, thou living One. There is no grave in heaven; there is no night there—much less death; even the first shadow is not allowed to darken the land,—how, then, shall the great death-gloom spread over it, and fill it with sevenfold night? In thy land of rest there is no night, no death, no sin, no sea, no need of the candle, no need of the sun nor of the moon: for the Lamb is the light thereof. He said, "I am the light of the world." He is the light of all worlds, and the light of all ages, and in him is no darkness at all. We call him, Lord, Saviour, Son of man, Son of God, God the Son,—the express image of that which is to us invisible. We desire that thou, Father of us all, wouldst take into thy care all our life. We mismanage all things: we kill the flowers that we pluck; it is in God only to do that which is for ever good and right. Not our will, but thine, be done: put us upon the mountain, or locate us in the vale,—where thou wilt, thou knowest our number upon thine own register: thou knowest where to find us: how to send the angels to us, and how to increase the light as our vision is able to bear it. We would live and move and have our being in God. The Lord hear us at the cross; and to our poor speech, full of sin and need, and always of supplication for something more, do thou listen in the name of Jesus, and answer in the mystery of the love of his cross; so that, where our prayer fails, thine answer may be multiplied; and where speech and song and adoration abound, may thy reply much more abound. Amen.