The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom, and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him.2Chronicles 12:1-12.
1. And it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom [rather, "when Rehoboam's kingdom had been established"], and had strengthened himself [when he had become strong], he forsook the law of the Lord.
[On this point the narrative in Kings is the fuller of the two. There we (Speaker's Commentary) are told that the apostacy of Rehoboam and his people consisted in their setting up high places, images, and groves, and in their encouragement of "Sodomites" and other Gentile abominations (1Kings 14:23-24)].
2. And it came to pass, that in the fifth year of king Rehoboam Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed [The writer speaks, of course, from a divine, not a human point of view. Shishak's motive in coming up was to help Jeroboam, and to extend his own influence], against the Lord ["for they had been unfaithful to Jehovah"].
3. With twelve hundred chariots [probably round numbers; a rough estimate], and threescore thousand horsemen: and the people were without number that came with him out of Egypt; the Lubims, the Sukkiims, and the Ethiopians.
[Upon this verse, Canon Barry says: Rather, Lybians, Sukkîyans, and Cushites (without the definite article). These were "the people"—i.e., the footmen. The Lybians and Cushites are mentioned together as auxiliaries of Egypt in Nahum 3:9. (Comp. chap. 2Chronicles 16:8.) The Sukkîyans are unknown, but the LXX. and Vulg. render Troglodytes, or cave-dwellers, meaning, it would seem, the Ethiopian Troglodytes of the mountains on the western shore of the Arabian gulf (comp. Sukkô, "his lair," Psalm 10:9).]
4. And he took the fenced cities [those very cities which Rehoboam had fortified as bulwarks against Egypt (chap. 2Chronicles 11:5-12)] which pertained to Judah, and came to Jerusalem.
5. ¶ Then came Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said unto them, Thus saith the Lord, Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak.
6. Whereupon the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves; and they said, The Lord is righteous [they acknowledged, that is, the justice of the sentence which had gone forth against them].
7. And when the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the Lord came to Shemaiah, saying, They have humbled themselves: therefore I will not destroy them [comp. the repentance of Ahab (1Kings 21:17-29) and that of the Ninevites (Jonah 2:5-10) which produced similar revocations of the divine decrees that had been pronounced by the mouth of a prophet], but I will grant them some deliverance [rather, deliverance for a short space]: and my wrath shall not be poured out [or, pour itself out, wreak itself] upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. [The destruction of Jerusalem was reserved for the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.]
8. Nevertheless they shall be his servants [Rehoboam had not merely to make a sacrifice of treasure to obtain peace. He had to accept the suzerainty of Egypt], that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries [i.e., "that they may be able to contrast the light burthen of the theocracy with the heavy yokes of a foreign monarch"].
9. So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house; he took all: he carried away also the shields of gold which Solomon had made.
10. Instead of which king Rehoboam made shields of brass, and committed them to the hands of the chief of the guard, that kept the entrance of the king's house.
11. And when the king entered into the house of the Lord, the guard came and fetched them, and brought them again into the guard chamber.
12. And when he humbled himself, the wrath of the Lord turned from him [in fulfilment of the promise of Nahum 3:7] that he would not destroy him altogether: and also in Judah things went well.
The Idolatry of Rehoboam
"And it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom, and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him" (2Chronicles 12:1).
AN accursed word is that sometimes—"established," or "strengthened," or prospered, or succeeded. It was the mark of the place where we turned hellward. We prayed when we were poor; we went to the sanctuary when we were weak. Who can stand fatness and sunshine all the year round? Who can understand the meaning of prosperity? Who can be modest, and great? Who can be humble, and rich? Who can be prayerful, and successful in business? The story thus comes to us with modernness of aspect and detail quite startling. Where are the rich? How delicate in health they became when their riches multiplied! How sensitive to cold when they rolled round in gorgeous chariot drawn by prancing and foaming steed! How short-tempered when they became long-pursed! What a change in their public prayers when they became the victims of social status and reputation! All the spirituality fled away from the prayer; the words were mechanically correct, and the sentences followed one another with some sequence; but the bloom, the fragrance, the tender delicate spirituality was gone. A man cannot have been three years wise, and then have returned to old courses, without his return being marked by aggravations of evil. The last state of the man is worse than the first. "The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." To have been half way to heaven, and then to have been thrown down—what agonies of recollection! What a temptation to drown the agonising memory in any dissipation that will permit us to bathe in its depths! Is it possible for a man who has once tasted the heavenly gift, and who has turned away from the divine table, ever to be brought back again? "With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible." In that word "possible" find the gospel which many a despairing heart needs as hunger needs bread.
The Lord explains his way amongst men,—
"It came to pass that in the fifth year of king Rehoboam... [that the Lord punished him—with this explanation]... because they had transgressed against the Lord" (2Chronicles 12:2).
How religious the Bible is! We should now say men are punished because they have transgressed the laws of nature: men are suffering physically because they have transgressed the laws of health; men are in great weakness because they have tempted debility, and brought it upon themselves by neglect or by indulgence. Even atheists have explanations. They cannot treat life as a piece of four-square wood, the whole of which can be seen at once; even they have laws, ministries, spectral actions, physiological explanations: it would seem as if the Bible gathered up all these and glorified them with a divine name, and said, This is the Lord's doing: he has laid hold of the sinner, he has arrested the transgressor, the grip of eternity is upon the neck of sinful time. There is no reason to surrender this frankness or to conceal this divine and spiritual action in life.
How did the Lord propose to punish Rehoboam and his kingdom? He said he would leave them in the hands of a certain man,—
"Then came Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said unto them, Thus saith the Lord, Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak" (2Chronicles 12:5).
That is all. But what an all it is!—I have left you, abandoned you, handed you over: how can I give thee up? How can I cut thee off? How can I smite thee? Yet there is no alternative sometimes but to shut the door in the prodigal's face, sometimes to tell him that his home is no longer at his service, sometimes to tell him that the old altar burns with a fire that will consume him should he draw nigh. Solemn words—"therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak"; and when God leaves a people in the hand of the enemy, the hand of the enemy is by so much strengthened, because of the weakness of the people who are left. This is the explanation of national disaster, and of many elements and features connected with national history. We are seeking in mean politics for an explanation of this or that tremendous suffering, awful destitution, sense of orphanage: whereas the explanation of it lies in the sanctuary that is above; God has handed over his people to the hand of the enemy for a time.
"So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house; he took all: he carried away also the shields of gold which Solomon had made. Instead of which king Rehoboam made shields of brass, and committed them to the hands of the chief of the guard, that kept the entrance of the king's house" (2Chronicles 12:9-10).
How deterioration walks in the steps of wickedness! Poor Rehoboam puts up brass instead of gold! He might have had all vessels of finest gold, gold seven times refined; but he failed, he fell back in a tremendous apostacy, and now that he wants shields he must have them made of brass. See how deteriora tion follows all character that goes down in its religious aspect. This deterioration marks the whole progress of human development. What songs we used to sing! How sweet in praise, how lofty in thought, how sacred in emotion! And now the song dies on our palsied and mumbling lips. How we used to preach—with what burning passion, with what apostolic zeal, with what divine fury and madness! And now we apologise for referring to the kingdom of heaven; and the cross, once our boast and glory, we have written all over with "laws of nature," "laws of mind," "laws of progress," "revelations of obedience: it used to be associated with mysterious blood; it used to be a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness: now it is a shadow in history, a spectre in the night-time of speculation: an uneasy, weird, unwelcome thing on the disc of progress. Is it not so with regard to all personal service? How ardent we once were! How devoted to the house of God, how punctual in attendance, how zealous in worship! How we longed for the hour of praise to double itself, for the sun to stand still and the moon, that we might have long intercourse with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost! Now how soon we become restless; how we long to be released, how patience becomes sensitive, and yields in angry surrender, because too much tried! You never bring gold for brass when you leave God. The prodigal never brings any treasure back with him; he comes back naked, hungry, starved; he comes back a gaunt skeleton, without touch of quality or worth; a beggar, a mendicant, a suppliant that dare hardly pray, for he would seem to have no right in language when he has fouled and despoiled all thought. When Rehoboam returns he will bring with him a shield of brass in place of a shield of gold; when men go away intellectually from the Bible this is what they do—they bring back brass for gold; when they leave the Bible morally they bring back brass for gold; when they leave sympathetically they bring back artifice for inspiration, mechanics for vital communion. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." There is a providence ruling all things; a great retributive law is at work in the universe. Men cannot do wrong, and the Lord leave them unpunished. "Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him." A serpent is on the other side of every hedge that God has planted. If we would enlarge our liberty by violating the hedge we shall be serpent-bitten. Let all human history say if this be not so.
"And when the king entered into the house of the Lord, the guard came and fetched them, and brought them again into the guard chamber. And when he humbled himself, the wrath of the Lord turned from him, that he would not destroy him altogether: and also in Judah things went well" [literally, "Moreover in Judah there were good things"] (2Chronicles 12:11-12).
We are called upon to observe the relation and progress of events, and to inquire into the moral reasons which explain either their ill-going or their happy advancement. We often speak of things going well in too narrow a sense, simply meaning that property increases, that health is continued, and that the whole outward environment is comfortable and satisfactory. That is not a proper estimate of the whole question. Things can only go well when the heart goes well. In proportion as we are right with God we shall feel that all things are ours. The world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are ours; and we are Christ's; and Christ is God's. Things may be going well externally whilst the very life is being poisoned or eaten out by some deadly cancer. When the king humbled himself the wrath of the Lord turned from him, and he would not destroy him altogether. Then it is added, "also in Judah things went well," the very structure of the sentence implying that what was a moral explanation in the one case was a moral explanation in the other. When the king humbled himself, the wrath of the Lord turned; then comes the word "also," signifying that the thought of the Chronicler is still advancing along the same moral line, implying that in Judah also there was humbleness of mind, and a tender longing after God; so that all things within the kingdom went well. Things go well when they are right: contentment comes after obedience: a triumphant death comes after a faithful and consecrated life: an abundant harvest follows a seedtime that has been carefully studied and turned to its full degree of advantage. When things do not go well we should inquire into moral reasons: why this affliction, why this loss, why this discontentment, why this bitterness of soul? Do not spare the inquiries; use them as spears, and thrust them into the heart, for out of such faithful self-dealing will come the humbleness, the penitence, the brokenheartedness, which are always followed by pardon, restoration, and spiritual harmony.
Almighty God, may we ever see thy hand working amongst us, shaping our life, pointing out our course, and writing for us lessons which we should lay to heart. We think all things move of themselves; we forget the inner life, the divine spring, the infinite purpose which lies behind and within all things seen and known. To be brought back to feel that thou art within the whole, working out a sovereign purpose, is to be deeply religious, is to be made solemn, calm, thankful, hopeful. We forget that there is a centre, a life, a throne; hence we become frivolous, and self-trustful, and self-idolatrous: when we remember the one, true, living, eternal God, we bethink ourselves, and come near to praying; when we see Jesus Christ seated upon the mountain, and hear him talking great words of life and wisdom and truth, we begin to ask solemn questions, and as we draw nearer to the Son of God we feel that he has yet somewhat to say unto us tenderer than we have yet heard; at the last he tells us as much as we can bear,—he is going to lay down his life, and take it again; for a moment he will die, for ever he will live, and whilst he lives he will pray for the sons of men. Thus we are taken to great heights, we see distant horizons, far-away glittering pinnacles of cities infinite and everlasting, and we despise the earth, so small, so dark, only room in it for a grave. Our whole thought has been lifted up by thy Son: never man spake like this man! He knows what is in man; he touches the heart, he inspires the whole being, he subdues and sanctifies the will, he creates us anew in his own image, and we are his workmanship, bearing upon us everywhere traces of his infinite skill and power and wisdom. We are the sons of God. Once we did not know this, for we were prisoners of darkness, worshippers of ourselves, dead in trespasses and in sins, lost; but we have seen a great light, a marvellous light; we now know that we are thy workmanship, thy creatures, thy friends, thy sons, and we wish to love thee with deepest love evermore. Now, therefore, we see other things in their right light; we know their weight, their value; we estimate them properly; they are no longer worthy of our day-and-night quest; they have their uses, their conveniences, but we would so take them up as to mean to set them down again; we would throw our whole love in all its tenacity only around the cross of Christ. We see somewhat now of the mystery of life; there is light on the edges thereof, presently there will be light at the very centre, a great glory, and God shall be magnified in the revelation; we shall come to know the meaning of darkness and pain, uphill travelling, long night watching; hot, awful tears; heartache, penitence, contrition; all the mystery and tragedy of life; and in the harvest, infinite, golden, we shall thank God for the pain of the seedtime. Receive all our thanks, from the household hearth where we have seen thy mercy, in life given and life spared, and life restored and life blessed. Hear the little nursery hymn, in which children sing what they do not understand, but who will one day come to feel all its sweet meaning. Listen to the sighing of those that are ill at ease, to whom day is night, and night is sevenfold in darkness, and all life is a huge burden or a sharp pain. Make us wise, true, noble, gentle, charitable; give us those eyes of sanctified affection which see excellence and not defect in the character of others. Arrest all evil men in evil courses; drive them back in shame, and make them think of God and truth and heaven. Help all good men in noble toil; may their courage never go down, may their hope be as a burning lamp, and may their inspiration be renewed day by day. Be with those in trouble on the sea; with wandering ones in lands far-away; with missionaries trying to turn difficult language into heavenly music by filling it with the gospel of Christ. Thus the Lord put his arms around the little world, and say to us in tones of comfort, the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof, and his the fulness of the sea. Amen.