The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. And Jehoram his son reigned in his stead.2 Chronicles 21
1. Now [And] Jehoshaphat slept [lay down] with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. And Jehoram his son reigned [Jehoram's sole reign now began. He had previously been associated in the kingdom with his father] in his stead.
2. And he had brethren the sons of Jehoshaphat, Azariah, and Jehiel, and Zechariah, and Azariah, and Michael, and Shephatiah: all these were the sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel.
3. And their father gave them great gifts of silver, and of gold, and of precious things [such as jewels, robes, and spices (Genesis 24:53)], with fenced cities in Judah: but the kingdom gave he to Jehoram; because he was the firstborn. [This was the rule (comp. Deuteronomy 21:15-17). For exceptions, see 1Chronicles 28:5; 2Chronicles 11:22; 2Chronicles 36:1].
4. Now when Jehoram was risen up to the kingdom of his father [lit. "And Jehoram arose over the kingdom," etc., a peculiar expression only found here. It seems to mean, "established himself on the throne." See a similar phrase Exodus 1:8], he strengthened himself [secured his hold of power], and slew all his brethren with the sword [in order to prevent intrigues against himself. Such ruthless crimes have been customary at Oriental accessions, and are one of the natural results of polygamy: comp. the conduct of Abimelech (Judges 9:5) and of Athaliah (chap. 2Chronicles 22:10). It was thus Jehoram "strengthened himself"], and divers also of the princes of Israel.
5. Jehoram was thirty and two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem.
6. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, like as did the house of Ahab: for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife: and he wrought that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord.
7. Howbeit the Lord would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and as he promised to give a light to him and to his sons for ever.
"For he [Jehoram] had the daughter of Ahab to wife" (2Chronicles 21:6).
THIS is not given as a fact, but is stated as an explanation. Such an explanation fills the heart with shame. Here is a man who did wickedly in the sight of the Lord, and when we begin to ask why he deported himself so viciously, we are told that "he had the daughter of Ahab to wife." What can there be in such an explanation to bring upon the cheek the blush of shame, and fill the heart with the fire of horror and resentment? He had the daughter of a bad man as his companion. How can some men be good when they must needs drink daily of an evil fountain, and come into association day by day with a breath hot and malarious as a pestilence? This woman makes no great demonstration of herself; we cannot say that to-day or tomorrow she will figure in some great tragedy, and show how terrible a thing it is to be the slave of sin. She may have been a silent woman; she may never have spoken above a whisper; but her whole life was set in a wrong direction. Every comment she made was discouraging to goodness, every attitude she assumed was inconsistent with the posture of prayer. We are not special pleaders on behalf of Jehoram, but we are bound to recognise that which is set down as one of the key-facts of his life. He was not bound to marry the daughter of Ahab; he selected her to be his life-companion. Men must reap the harvests which they themselves have sown. No man is at liberty to fall back upon secondary explanations, saying, Had I been better related, more comfortably situated; had my circumstances been more favourable,—all such reasoning is tainted with the vice of selfishness. First let us settle how far we ourselves are responsible for the circumstances. A man must not light a fire and then complain of the heat. No man is at liberty to drink poison and then say that he is in pain, and ask for the pity of those who are round about him. Cause and effect must go together: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." On the other hand, we are to recognise facts as we find them. How can some women be good? for they have no joy at home; when they open the window, the sun seems to pass by on the other side without blessing it; when they speak a generous word, they meet with no response; when they propose to begin a larger and nobler life, their suggestions are received with resentment or disdain. So again we ask, How can some men be good? How can a man lay hold with sense of security upon an inclined plane, so steep that he can hardly hold his own for a moment? Why ask the man to come upward, to advance, when the very geometry of life seems to be set against him? Still, we go back to origins and say, Who began this? There must be no mere exchange of denunciation, but a common penitence, a common sorrow, a mutual amnesty, and a united recommencement. How musically these words might read! "For he had the daughter of Ahab to wife," need not have explained a vicious spirit, and an unpatriotic and unholy policy; such words would rhyme well with wisdom, progress, patriotism, philanthropy: "For he had the daughter of Ahab to wife," a woman who cheered him, understood him, supported him by her sympathy, and led the way to the brighter worlds which she wished him to claim and to enjoy. The words are right; it is the context that gives them blackness, and sting, and tincture of hell.
"The Lord smote him [Jehoram] in his bowels with an incurable disease" (2Chronicles 21:18).
But how can any disease be incurable, when there are students of science and physicians of eminence, and men so full of knowledge of everything else that they have no knowledge of God? Do not understand that such men are empty tanks in which there is no water; but rather say they are overflowing reservoirs, and because they are overflowing with knowledge of continuity, and persistence, and phenomena, they have no room for God. How can there be any incurable disease whilst these men are living? Is disease curable up to a given point, and then does the physician retire from the fray, saying that he can do no more? How many are the resources of the Almighty? At how many points can he smite a man fatally? The house of the body is but a little house, and yet God can find ten thousand points at which he can overturn the health, strength, pith, ambition, purpose, and whole resolution of mind. A man may die by the feet, rotting at the extremities, and out of those putrid mouths the whole stream of life may run, as a coward runs by some back way. Or God can touch a man's brain, the pinnacle of the whole life, so that the man cannot find his own house, though he be within one inch of its threshold. God can so touch a man's eyes that the man shall not know his own child, but shall talk to that child as to a stranger, and ask foolish questions of his own son. How many are the chariots of God in which he goes forth to war? How many swords has the Almighty? Is not his name the Lord of hosts? and who can tell what the word "hosts" means in that connection? If God had but one way, if his were a monotonous providence, if death could only walk up one broad road visible to the naked eye, we might do a good deal towards foiling even him. No man can tell how death may come to him—at the head, the heart, the bowels, the bones, the feet, the mind: enough that God smote him. Does God sometimes smite without utterly overthrowing? This certainly is the most penal and disastrous part of his providence. Sudden death is nothing to lingering dissolution. How long will it take this disease to work its cruel way? The physician cannot tell, love can only speculate, grief can only cry in despairing prayer. We must accustom ourselves to this aspect of providence, or we shall play a fool's part in the reading of the literature of life. He is not a man, but an ostrich, who thrusts his head into the sand and says there is no danger. Let us face the whole difficulty, and consider the whole problem of life. God has never dispensed with the element of fear in his administration of the affairs of the universe: let us take care lest we dispense with it only to lay up wrath against the day of wrath. All our cures are temporary at the best; we do but help men to live a few days longer. The cordon of doctors around the royal patient may help him for a few days or weeks: though the fee be an empire they cannot stave off the insidious, irresistible monster. There is a time when the physician gives up the patient to the mother. Can man be more humiliated than when with a whole panoply of diplomas he says to the mother or the nurse, "I can do no more"? Then why does he not tear off his diplomas and burn them? For they are mockeries, empty decorations, only certificates that legalise a fee. Who has not seen the physician turning away, giving up the battle, and handing the patient over to the doctor that never gives up, the mother? She does not give up when death has taken place; that is only another form of life: it may be superstitious, but it helps the good old soul to live better. There is a point at which science will leave a man. If Christianity does not stay with you then, you will be very lonely. But Christianity never goes away. That is the distinction of Jesus Christ. All other men retire, but Jesus Christ says, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." It is a grand word, whether he were a carpenter's son, or the incarnate Logos. Whatever he was, whoever he was, when he said he would not leave the house till the trouble left it, he became God by that very word. Do not rest the deity of your Lord on some Greek preposition: rest it on his eternal pathos, his majestic humanity. It is a pitiable spectacle to see a man left at the very moment when he ought not to be left. How many came out of doors with us because the morning was so fine! That was their reason, they said so; they were sun-lured, the sky was so blue they could not stay inside, and they thought to get credit for bearing us companionship, while in reality they were going to enjoy themselves; the cloud came, the trouble of life came, and friend after friend fell off; the disease was seen to be incurable, and was given up with a sigh that had no heart in it. Who is that Figure still with the suffering one?
I beheld, and lo, it was one like unto the Son of man. Never did we go into a sick-house and hear the patient say, Jesus left me last night because he could do nothing more for me. It is at that point we know who is Saviour and who is pretender. If it be superstition, it warms the heart; if it be hallucination, it bridges the gulf; if it be a dream, it touches heaven. There is but one disease really incurable, and that is the disease of sin. No man can cure that. God cannot cure sin: "The wages of sin is death," and God cannot alter that law. He would cease to be God if he could conjure with morality. Then must man die under his weight of sin? Yes: but he may die in one of two ways; in a way that is hopeless, or in a way that prepares for the incoming of the Son of man with all the pathos, the majesty, and the glory of his cross. God does not cure sin, he destroys it: God cannot change the nature of sin, he can burn it. Only life can conquer death, only the vitalising touch can raise the devitalised soul of man. Here is a mystery, the sublimest of all mysteries—that death shall come by blood, that life shall come by death, and that death shall be so handled as to be the womb and fountain of immortality. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. To understand this is beyond us; intellectually to master it and theorise it is not within our province; but to see it with the heart, to feel it in the soul and with the soul, and to receive it in the moment of agony and hunger, this is possible to all men, this is the gift of God. If we are waiting to understand the process of curing the incurable we shall never be healed; the soul must rise into the exercise of spiritual faith and trust, self-obliteration and self-detestation, and cast itself upon the living Christ. Are we prepared for this? Other salvation there is none; there is no name given under heaven among men whereby we can be saved but that of Jesus Christ. Great is the mystery of godliness: if it were a matter of speculation, intellectual exposition, and intellectual reception, then salvation would be of works and not of faith, for cleverness is but an attribute of intellectuality; there is no cleverness in faith, it is the climax and glorification of self-distrust.
16. Moreover the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians, that were near the Ethiopians:
17. And they came up into Judah, and brake into [wasted] 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.
18. And after all this the Lord smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease [a violent dysentery].
19. And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years [his sufferings continued to the last], his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him [because of their discontent with his evil reign] like the burning of his fathers.
20. Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years, and departed without being desired [i.e. unregretted]. Howbeit they buried him in the city of David, but not in the sepulchres of the kings [another circumstance of dishonour].
No man wanted him to live one day longer; no heart said, It will be a dark day when the king dies. Is there infamy equal to such an issue? It is possible for us to live so that people will be glad when we die. They may be decent enough not to express their joy hilariously; indeed, a tear full of pensiveness may moisten the eye; but underneath all that is decent and courteous there will be a feeling of relief. We know what men feel who have been relieved of a burden which has been too heavy for them; we know what travellers feel when the darkness vanishes because the light has come. A man may so live in his own house that the house will be the happier for his absence. Sad that it should be so! Sad beyond all power of fancy to realise that a man's own children should attend their father's funeral with a joy befitting a festival. On the other hand, men may so live that many will die when they expire! they will say, "When such friends part, 'tis the survivor dies." Blessed is that sorrow, and right sweet, yea, sweet as the honey and the honeycomb! although it is sorrow, bitter at first tasting, but sweetening day by day, as distance mitigates immediate pain, and throws into perspective a beneficent life. When men of such character die, they change the whole outlook of those who live after them; they clothe the soul as with a vesture of pensiveness. That pensiveness is not real grief, unmitigated sorrow, despair, but quite a holy melancholy, the very ripeness of joy. But joy does not come to its autumnal bloom and flush of maturity at first; so to say, it is not born so; at the beginning it may be boisterous elation, almost flippant, stronger in emotion than in reason, but when some great bereavement comes, when some tremendous stroke is delivered on the life, from that moment joy begins to consolidate, to ripen, to increase in all the richest elements of gladness, so much so, that many men not understanding human life think it sadness at the very moment when the joy is about to burst into singing and triumph. Fools do not know what joy is. Passing by those who are laughing loudly, they call such hilarious tempest gladness; whereas there is no gladness in it. Gladness does not come until the plough of sorrow has ripped the heart up, and made way for such processes and ministries as grow the true joy of harvest. How are we going to die? Like this man, who "departed without being desired"? We can live so that people will miss us, cry after us—"My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" Or we can so live that when we die the air will be lighter, and Sabbath will have come when our grave has been filled. Yet what a line of mercy is in this very declaration! The word "Howbeit" begins the concluding sentence in the verse. After "Howbeit" there may be some break in the cloud. Blessed be God for these words—adverbs, conjunctions, little auxiliary words—that seem to turn the current of the history as the helm turns the vessel. After this "Howbeit" what follows? "They buried him in the city of David." So he was not an exile altogether in his death. Other kings had been buried in unconsecrated ground. That ground is unconsecrated that never was moistened with human tear and that never will be visited with human solicitude; though all the priests in whitest linen and finest vesture have blessed the sod, it was damned by a diviner prelacy. Here is a man who is just within the line, just on the right side of the threshold, barely saved from being wrapped in the snow of eternal solitude. Then comes another word—decisive, disjunctive, but needful.
After "Howbeit" there comes a ray of light; after "but" there comes this significant clause—"not in the sepulchres of the kings." Justice will have some claim on which it will insist at the very last. We must not spoil all the music of the universe. There is a fitness of things in sepulture. The bad man must not lie in the good man's place. Character must be marked by the burial of the flesh. To this end moral processes always come—namely, to separation, judgment, execration. How pitiful is the whole case! Unhappy at home, viciously married, living a life of wickedness, stricken in the bowels with an incurable disease, his bowels at the end of two years falling out by reason of his sickness; no burning made for him like the burning of his fathers, leaving the world without any soul's tender au revoir; we shall meet again on the other side of the stream: adieu. He departed without being desired, without any one saying, Let us save him another day, let us keep him over tomorrow. Yet, poor soul, he must be buried in the city of David,—so much is due to official position—"but not in the sepulchres of the kings": a king without kingliness; he has fouled his crown, he must not sleep with the brothers that should have owned him. Thus again the practical inquiry comes, and seizes us with solemn right, What is our end to be? Who will miss us when we die?
Jehoram I. was the eldest son and successor of Jehoshaphat, and fifth king of Judah. He unhappily married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel; and her influence seems to have neutralised all the good he might have derived from the example of his father. One of the first acts of his reign was to put his brothers to death and seize the valuable appanages which their father had in his lifetime bestowed upon them. After this we are not surprised to find him giving way to the gross idolatries of that new and strange kind—the Phoenician—which had been brought into Israel by Jezebel, and into Judah by her daughter Athaliah. For these atrocities the Lord let forth his anger against Jehoram and his kingdom. The Edomites revolted, and, according to old prophecies (Genesis 27:40), shook off the yoke of Judah. The Philistines on one side, and the Arabians and Cushites on the other, also grew bold against a king forsaken of God, and in repeated invasions spoiled the land of all its substance; they even ravaged the royal palaces, and took away the wives and children of the king, leaving him only one son, Ahaziah. Nor was this all; Jehoram was in his last days afflicted with a frightful disease in his bowels, which, from the terms employed in describing it, appears to have been malignant dysentery in its most shocking and tormenting form. After a disgraceful reign, and a most painful death, public opinion inflicted the posthumous dishonour of refusing him a place in the sepulchre of the kings. Jehoram was by far the most impious and cruel tyrant that had as yet occupied the throne of Judah, though he was rivalled or surpassed by some of his successors. (2Kings 8:16-24; 2 Chronicles 21).
Almighty God, may we listen evermore for the voice divine, and heed no other. The sheep of Jesus know his voice, and a stranger will they not follow: may we be found in that obedient flock, following the Saviour everywhere, until we are safe enfolded on the mountains of heaven. Many voices assail our ears and seek to tempt our confidence by varied music; may we instantly detect all that is wrong, hollow, selfish, worldly, and turn with the longing of hunger and the desire of thirst to him who is the living One, and who alone has the bread of life. We know thy goodness, we have tasted thy mercy, we live in thy compassion, we owe our continued being to thy tears. Thou didst love the world, and save it by the shedding of blood; thou didst yearn over that which had gone astray, and thou didst send thy Son to find it and bring it home again, and because of his mighty, wondrous, all-sacrificial work we are found upon ground that is not forsaken of mercy. Continue thy blessing to us, then we shall never die; give us understanding of ourselves, give us the self-reverence which sees God in man, the image divine upon the image that is human and mortal; then shall we recognise in ourselves the temple of the Holy Ghost, and shall know that the Holy Ghost liveth in us, to enlighten, and rule, and sanctify. O thou all-claiming God, Father to whom all souls belong, give us confidence in thy nearness, thy goodness, thy pity, and thy love; and because we are assured of all these we shall be strong, and carry the battle to triumph. Ease our load a little, for the burden is heavy and the road is long. Help us through the night that is not shortened by sleep; may our meditation of thee then be sweet; then shall we think the morning too soon in coming. Thus be with us on the mountain-top and in the deep valley, in the hot summer and in the snowy winter, and bring us through all life's variety to the calm, the peace, the joy, the security of heaven. Amen.