The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, with thee is light and in thee is no darkness at all. Thou hast called upon us to be children of the light, and to walk in the day and not in the night, that we may show forth the glory of thy word and the meaning of thy kingdom. May we answer that great call in thine own strength; then shall men know that we are reflecting Christ's glory, and are not shining in a light of our own creation. We bless thee for thy word, the entrance of which giveth light. It is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path; it shineth afar over our whole life, so that there is no dark place in all the days of man, if so be he put his trust in the living God, and walk only according to the living word. Thou hast set around us circumstances designed to teach us. Thou dost call upon us to read the book of providence, to turn over its pages carefully, and to consult all its records patiently and with an understanding mind. Thou hast also written round about us the wonderful writing of nature—a marvellous revelation, so grand, yet so simple; so infinite, yet in every detail of it intelligible and representative of such care and wisdom and love. Then thou hast written thy book which is addressed to our souls—the book of inspiration, the living Bible, the marvellous speech of God's own wisdom. Surely we shall read some of these writings of thine—the great providence, the splendid nature, the vital book. May we be found diligent students of one of these at least; then we shall proceed unto the other: for they are all connected, and belong to one another, and lead up to one another, and complete one another: may we begin where we can only begin reverently, thoughtfully, and hopefully and thus in due time may we become men of God thoroughly instructed in all good works, armed at every point against the tempter, having the Holy One dwelling in our hearts and making us holy, turning our whole life into a sacrifice, and setting before us a luring and welcoming destiny. Meanwhile, we need so much guidance and comfort and sympathy, for the way is dark, and the day is as nothing. Oh how rough is the path sometimes, and how dangerous! We hear voices in the wind which we interpret into threatening or cruelty or some kind of alarm, and we shrink back and are dismayed because there is no more strength in us. Sometimes we go out to seek water, and there is none, and our tongue faileth for thirst. Now we say, To-day will be the beginning of liberty; and, lo, it does but lengthen our chain and add to the weight which we are carrying. We need to be comforted, upheld, sustained, directed. How many angels do we need to minister unto us would we be heirs of salvation!—one to answer the great argument; another to dispel the frowning, sullen doubt; another to sing to us in the nighttime of our heartlessness: but are not all thine angels ministering spirits, sent forth to minister, living to serve, and ordered by thee to nourish and cherish thy Church? We pray thee to be with us thyself—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; three in one, one in three. We feel our need of this tri-unity, for we ourselves are three in one—a great mystery of being: now full of pain and sorrow, and now almost angels for brightness and joy. Pardon our sin. Only God can forgive sin: but the blood of Jesus Christ thy Son was shed for sinners, and that blood availeth still. May we know the meaning of its application, may we feel its gracious virtue, and when the enemy would tell us that pardon is impossible, may we be told in our own consciousness to answer that he was a deceiver from the beginning. Help all men who need special favour. Sometimes they are all but in despair; sometimes the hand is half put out towards the poison or the steel: they say they cannot bear the pain and darkness any longer: they are mad with agony. O thou who didst make that marvellous instrument the human constitution, thou who knowest all its fashioning, all its limits, all its desires' and passions, its susceptibilities, do thou undertake thyself cases which are beyond our strength and help. The Lord hear us at all times; specially when we beg for light and wisdom and forgiveness. Amen.
Then Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab.2 Kings 1
[Note.—The annotations in this and the following chapters give the results of the best available criticism.]
1. Then [And] Moab rebelled against Israel [reduced to vassalage by David] after the death of Ahab.
2. And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and [by Jezebel's advice] he sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, enquire of Baal-zebub [Lord of flies] the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease.
3. But [Now] the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say [speak] unto them, Is it not [omit "not"] because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go [are going] to enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?
4. Now therefore thus saith [hath said] the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die. And Elijah departed.
5. ¶ And when the messengers turned back unto him, he said unto them, Why [the "why" is emphatic] are ye now turned back?
6. And they said unto him, There came a man up to meet us, and said unto us, Go, turn again unto the king that sent you, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that thou sendest [art sending] to enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron? therefore thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.
7. And he said unto them, What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words?
8. And they answered him, He was an hairy man [literally, a lord of hair, a term which probably referred to his mantle], and girt with a girdle of leather [the leather was a sign of poverty. Ordinarily the girdle was of linen or cotton] about his loins. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite.
9. Then the king [with hostile intentions] sent unto him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and behold, he sat [was sitting] on the top of an hill [above Samaria. Some think Carmel]. And he [the captain] spake unto him, Thou man of God [man of the true God], the king hath said, Come down.
10. And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume [eat or devour] thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
11. Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, O man of God, thus hath the king said [commanded], Come down quickly.
12. And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
13. ¶ And he sent again a captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought [begged compassion of him] him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight.
14. Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in thy sight.
15. And the angel of the Lord said unto Elijah, Go down [from the mountain to the city] with him: be not afraid of him [the captain]. And he arose, and went down with him unto the king.
16. And he said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast sent messengers to enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron, is it not because there is no God in Israel to enquire of his word? therefore thou shalt not come down off [from] that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.
17. ¶ So he died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken. And Jehoram [some versions add "his brother"] reigned in his stead in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah; because he had no son.
18. Now the rest of the [history] acts of Ahaziah which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?
False Religious Appeals
Ahaziah, the man of whom this chapter speaks, was the son of Ahab and of Jezebel. He was badly born. Some allowance must be made for this fact in estimating his character. Again and again we have had occasion, and shall indeed often have, to remark upon the disadvantages of children born of wicked parents. It is not for us to lay down any final doctrine of responsibility; we must leave that in the hands of a just and gracious God. A terrible spectacle, however, it is to see a man whose father sold himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, who bound himself as for a price to show rebellion on the very floor of heaven. Ahaziah was a prince of evil,—a man who said he would defile the sanctuary, and commit his supreme sin within the shadow of the altar, and whose mother planned and all but personally executed the murder of Naboth. What can we expect from such a child of darkness? Who can gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Was he responsible for his own actions? Society is often hard on such men, not unreasonably or unnaturally. Yet society is often very gracious to such men, saying, with an instinctive piety and sense of justice, After all, such men are not to be personally blamed for their antecedents: they may indeed be open to some measure of suspicion, but even they must have their opportunity in life. Let us consider the case of Ahaziah and see how matters stand for our own instruction.
To understand the matter thoroughly we must go to 1Kings 22:49 :—"Then said Ahaziah the son of Ahab unto Jehoshaphat, Let my servants go with thy servants in the ships. But Jehoshaphat would not." Jehoshaphat was right when he acted upon his instinct. By-and-by he came to act upon a basis of calculation, and then a compact was entered into. But who dare set aside the voice of instinct—the very first voice that rises in the soul to make judgment and to give direction? Jehoshaphat, on hearing the proposal of the son of Ahab, said: No; I have known thy father too well: I am too familiarly acquainted with thy family history: thou shalt not send thy servants with mine. It would be well for us if we could sometimes act more promptly upon our instincts. When we begin to reason and reckon and calculate, and especially when a little element of selfishness enters into all the consideration, we begin, though acting in the high name of reason, oftentimes to be foolish and to depart from the living and noble way. Is there not a spirit in man? Is there not a voice that instantly responds to circumstances and appeals? How is it that we cannot associate with some men? They darken the day; they make everything crooked which they touch; when they are not frivolous they are censorious; when they are not boisterous they are vulgar; they have no noble ideas, no holy passions, no sublime enthusiasms; their speech makes us little, impairs our own fortitude and whole quality. We shrink from them; we would not take a whole day's journey with them upon any consideration: they would spoil the summer: they would make noise when we wanted peace. They always take a low view of every case; they suspect every man, and they know exactly what he is going to be about; and they show their penetration by reading, often falsely, the man's motives. We shrink from such people by a marvellous gift which God has implanted in the enlightened consciousness of man. We decline all compact and partnership and association and sharing: for we would not share a bag with a thief, because surely he would leave us nothing but the bag. Blessed be God for this inward voice, this quick, flashing, lightning-like feeling, which tells us when there is an enemy in the air and when there is one approaching whose aim is only evil. It would have been well for Jehoshaphat if he had acted upon his instinct.
Ahaziah fell through the lattice, and in his helplessness he became religious. Man must have some God. Even atheism is a kind of religion. When a man recoils openly from what may be termed the public faith of his country, he seeks to apologise for his recoil, and to make up for his church absence by creating high obligations of another class: he plays the patriot; he plays the disciplinarian; he will be a Spartan in personal training and drill,—in some way he will try to make up for, or defend, the recoil of his soul from the old altar of his country. It is in their helplessness that we really know what men are. Do not listen to the frivolous and irresponsible chatter of men who, being in robust health, really know nothing about the aching, the sorrow, the pain, the need, and the agony of this awful human life. What does our helplessness suggest? Instantly we go out of ourselves to seek friendship, assistance, sympathy. Oh, would some gentle hand but touch my weariness! says the helpless one. All that being fairly and duly interpreted has a religious signification. The cry for friendship is but a subdued cry for God. Sometimes men will invent gods of their own. This is what was done practically by Ahaziah. Men will go out after novel deities. This is what is being done every day,—not under that name, but the mere name makes no difference in the purpose of the spirit. Say, new enjoyments, new entertainments, new programmes, new customs,—these being interpreted as to the heart of them mean new altars, new helpers, new gods. It is said of Shakespeare that he first exhausted worlds, and then invented new. That was right. It was but of the liberty of a poet so to do. But it is no part of the liberty of the soul. Necessity forbids it, because the true God cannot be exhausted. He is like his own nature, so far as we know it in the great creation; he is all things in one, gleaming and dazzling as noontide, soft and gentle as the balmy wind, strong as the great mountains and rocks, beauteous as the tiny fragrant flowers, musical as the birds that make the air melodious, awful as the gathered thunder which hovers above the earth as if in threatening. Who can exhaust nature? Who can exhaust nature's God? Still, the imagination of man is evil continually. He will invent new ways of enjoying himself. He will degrade religion into a mere form of interrogation. This is what Ahaziah did in this instance: "Go, enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease" (2Kings 1:2). All that we sometimes want of God is that he should be the great fortune-teller. If he will tell us how this transaction will turn out, how this speculation will fructify, how this illness will terminate, how this revolution will eventuate,—that is all we want with him; a question-answering God, a fortune-telling God; a God that will specially take care of us and nurse us into strength that we may spend that strength in reviling against his throne. We must cross-examine our religion. We must put the knife right into it. We must not take it on trust and say languidly that all will issue rightly, if we will but enjoy ourselves according to our capacity and opportunity. We must search our faith, and try our own prayers before sending them to heaven, that we may not affront the great God by uttering pointless words and speeches that have everything in them but heart and meaning. How true it is that Ahaziah represents us all in making his religion into a mere form of question-asking; in other words, into a form of selfishness! Nothing can be so selfish as religion. Debased and misunderstood or corrupted religion is the most inveterate and pestilent selfishness imaginable. It is almost impossible for some natures to escape the taint of this selfishness. Even their desire for heaven is a desire for self-indulgence, for languid, dreamless, continual rest or peace. The idea of service, discipline, sacrifice, self-expenditure never enters into their conception of religion: hence their religion is irreligion—a lie—a blasphemy!
The messengers have now come. They have taken their speech from their king, and they are on the road to consult Baal-zebub the god of Ekron. But who is this who meets them, and who says, "Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?" The men had said nothing about their errand: who is it that reads the heart night and day, to whom the darkness and the light are both alike, and from the fire of whose eye nothing is hid? How do we get the impression that when we have perfected our lie it is in some sense public property? We are sure the man we meet knows it. He looks as if he did. Who has told him? We have not mentioned a word about it, we have covered it up with all possible care, and yet the very first man we meet on the road looks at us as if he were looking through us and reading the whole lie in its black letters and in its deadly purport. Surely there is an angel of the Lord abroad in human life, reading what we are about, and so entering into other men as to make them look as if they knew our plan, and were all the while either smiling at our destined misfortune or frowning upon our palpable wickedness.
Elijah is an abrupt speaker. The "hairy man" and "girt with a girdle of leather," did not study the scanning of his sentences. He struck with a battering-ram; his interrogations were spears that quivered in the heart; his looks were judgments. What an effect he produced upon these men; why did they not go past him and say, Keep thy speeches to thyself, thou hairy man, nor interfere with the king's messengers? We cannot do that. We know that some men are not to be turned away so. We may attempt to deceive, or evade, or disappoint them, but they have a magnetic and most marvellous influence upon us. Though they do not speak in the imperative mood they speak with imperative force. The men turned back like whipped children to tell the king what they had heard; and the king was surprised at their early return. God has still prophets and instructors of his own. There are still courageous men abroad—men who dare speak the word of judgment and condemnation; men who dare put in a word for the slave and for the man who is oppressed unreasonably. These courageous men are "hairy men, and girt with a girdle of leather," who want no invitation to the feast, who scorn the soft delights of parlour life; men to whom no favour can be shown, for they would rather sleep in the fissure of the rock than on the softest bed ever made by softest hands. Would God we had more such men! It is because we are exposed to the blandishments of society that sometimes we do not speak with full and final emphasis. But Elijah, a hairy man, with his coat of leather—henceforward the symbolical garment of the prophet—did not ask for a night's lodging, nor for a cup of cold water, not for a flattering paragraph in the forthcoming journal. He represented God, eternity, truth, and if men were offended by what he said he was willing to remit the issue to the arbitrament of God. But whilst Elijah is dead, God still has his witnesses in the form of remarkable events. They come and go, full of meaning, and leave behind them impressions which cannot easily be effaced. Nations are upheaved; harvests fail; the air is full of germs of disease; deaths occur suddenly, swiftly, numerously; the east wind blows week after week and month after month, so that no green thing can show itself, and no bud is hardy enough to break through and say—O thou bitter wind, I will live, though thou dost blow with all thy cold cruelty. So God keeps affairs in his own hands, now and again interposing with some visitation, and then making men white with fear, and making dumb lips move in abject prayer. Then again there comes a time which may be characterised as a time of awakened conscience. The king cannot sleep. He asks that the book of the chronicles may be brought that he may look up events and see where the loop slipped, where the wrong entry was made, or where the minutes were not carried out in fulness and detail. Men hunt up their own commercial records and say, Was this justly done? Something tells me that sharp practice was indulged here: I cannot sleep: there is a thorn in the pillow; I feel it, I feel it in its length; I have not yet felt it in its sharpness, but I may at any moment lay my head on the very point of the thorn, so I had better arrange and readjust, and indeed extract the thorn, for it will become presently to me like a ghost, and I dare not go to bed at all: I cannot go out in the dark as I used to do: once I had no fear, but now to run through a short plantation only one hundred yards long, I dare not; if I hear a leaf stir, I think it is a thief or a burglar going to spring upon me: I hear creakings in the room at night; I hear scratchings on the window pane: I am sure there is something wrong. All this means that Elijah lives in some form or other, and will meet us, and confront us, and have it out with us. Blessed is he who first begins by falling down and saying—God be merciful to me a sinner!
Look at the conflict between Ahaziah and Elijah the Tishbite. Ahaziah is the king, and Elijah is only the prophet, and the king ought to have everything his own way ex officio. Now we shall see what metal Elijah is made of. He handled kings as if they were little children: he took them up, and set them down behind him, and said, Wait there until I return, and stir at your peril. The prophet should always be the uppermost man. Kings are nothing compared to teachers, seers,—men who hold the judgments of God on commission. The great men of the nation are the prophets, the teachers, the educators of thought, the inspirers of noble sacrificial enthusiasm. See how Elijah tramps among the kings. He has no favour to ask. If he were driven to ask for one morsel of bread, he would be Elijah no more. Ahaziah sends to him and says, "Come down." That word sounds very commanding and imperative. Elijah says, "If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty" (2Kings 1:10). Look at the conflict and its parties:—on the one hand, petulance; on the other, dignity: on the one side, anger—fretful, fuming, petty anger; on the other, judgment—calm, sublime, comprehensive, final: on the one side, threats, little menaces, assurances of coming punishment; on the other, "fire." Nor is this a mere picture; it is a symbol, a type, an algebraic sign pointing to infinite circles, an index-finger showing the road that leads to death.
Look at the event from a Christian point of view. It is no longer a precedent. All this kind of action ceases in the Old Testament. The disciples were in some degree Old Testament men, and they said: Master, shall we call down fire from heaven to burn these people who have insulted and dishonoured thee? Elijah would have called down fire: may not we? Jesus answered them: "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of:" you do not understand the kingdom of God; you are taking the ages backward; you are not living along the line of spiritual evolution. Elijah called down fire rightly in his day, but his day is gone. In the Christian dispensation this method is replaced by a new spirit,—the spirit of love, the spirit of truth, the teaching spirit—it is consummated in a new method. What is the attitude towards the Ahaziahs and other rebels of today? It is one of persuasion, entreaty, proclamation, preaching—preaching the old "foolish" doctrine of the cross. That is all; a fire would be a readier method. If the preacher could punctuate his appeals with lightning-bolts he might make some progress,—within the moment, but not really. This is the method of Christ—a striving, persuading, entreating, teaching method,—very feeble-looking sometimes, and altogether fruitless in many instances, but it is his method. Is fire then done away with? Is there no more fire in the hand of God and in the judgment of heaven? The answer is, Fire is not done away with, but it is now reserved for a final appeal. Mark, violence is not withdrawn, but is suspended; it is not now active in the divine service, but not one spark is dead, not one flame has gone out. The fire is kept back; still "our God is a consuming fire;" still the final word to the wicked will be, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Do not presume too far. The fire is not now handled as it used to be handled in Old Testament times, but still it is true that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." He will keep back the fire as long as he can—
But the thunder is still there, the bolt is still available, and he would be no preacher anointed at the cross and inspired by the Holy Ghost who kept back the terrors of the Lord, or persuaded men that sin is a light and easy and unimportant action.
"Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?" (2Kings 1:3).—Ekron was one of the royal cities of the Philistines. Its situation is pointed out with considerable minuteness in Scripture. It is described as lying on the northern border of Philistia (Joshua 13:3), and of the territory allotted to Judah (xv. 11). It stood on the plain between Bethshemesh and Jabneel (Id.). Jerome locates it on the east of the road leading from Azotus (Ashdod) to Jamnia (Jabneel, Orornast, s.v. Accaron). From these notices we have no difficulty in identifying it with the modern village of Akȋr. Akȋr stands on the southern slope of a low bleak ridge or swell which separates the plain of Philistia from Sharon. It contains about fifty mud houses, and has not a vestige of antiquity except two large and deep wells, and some stone water-troughs. Wady Surar, which lies below it, and the great plain beyond, are rich and fertile; yet the higher ground around the village and northward has a barren aspect, and may perhaps have suggested the name Ekron, "wasteness"). The houses are built on the accumulated rubbish of past ages; and like their predecessors, if left desolate for a few years, they would crumble to dust. Ekron was within the territory of Judah; but was one of the cities allotted to Dan (Joshua 19:43). The most interesting event in its history was the sending of the ark to Bethshemesh. A new cart was made, and two milch kine yoked to it, and then left to choose their own path; "and they took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh;" the position of which can be seen in a gorge of the distant mountains eastward (1 Samuel 5). The deity worshipped at Ekron was called Baal-zebub; and we may conclude from the story of Ahaziah that his oracle had a great reputation even among the degenerate Israelites (2 Kings 1). The doom of Ekron was predicted by the prophets in connection with the other cities of Philistia; and Ekron is now "rooted up"—every trace of royalty, riches, and power is gone (Amos 1:8; Zephaniah 2:4). It appears, however, never to have been completely deserted. It was a large village in the days of Jerome; and also in the age of the crusades.
Almighty God, how near thou art in thy heaven, yet how far; near unto those whose trust is in thee and whose life is hid with Christ in God, who are branches of the true vine; and far from those who do not know God nor love him nor care for his word and his law. Teach us that our life is in thy hand and not in our own, that there is an appointed time to man upon the earth, that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without thee—teach us, therefore, that thou art round about us always, understanding our thoughts, looking into our motives, considering our desires, listening to our sighings and prayers. Thus may we live and move and have our being in God; may God always be the nearest to us, always at hand and not afar off. Help us to consult thee in every movement of our life, to stand still and see the salvation of God, to look up unto the hills whence cometh our help, lo take nothing into our own hands, to wait the disclosure of thy counsel and the indication of thy power, and to walk humbly but steadfastly and with persistence and loyalty in the way thou dost mark for our feet.
Thou hast led us wondrously; behold, if we look back, our yesterdays are full of the fire of heaven. Thou hast led us by a way that was right, thou hast defended us from danger, seen and unseen, thou hast opened doors for us of which we had no key, thou hast sent an angel to throw back the gate and deliver from the prison. Glory and honour and praise and power be unto thy name, thou mighty Deliverer and Saviour of our souls. Now we are in thy house, and it is the gate of heaven: quiet us, fill us with thy peace, make us calm with thy restfulness, shed upon us the Spirit that is holy and eternal, and make the fire of the Lord abound in our hearts, and the wisdom that cometh down from heaven enlighten our understanding. May we feel that thy word is light and life and peace and comfort, the very beginning of heaven, the life of God in the soul, the first throb of our immortality.
May thy word come to us today from ancient time, as new as if but just spoken. May we know that thy word abideth for ever, that its accents and purposes and commandments and injunctions are not measurable by time—that it is the ever-spoken word, the ever commanding "Be" and fiat of Jehovah, our present and almighty sovereign. And thus may we come to it as the oldest book and the newest, old as thine own eternity, new as our present need. Thus may thy word be unto us meat and drink, manna in the wilderness, and water out of the rock, a great joy, a perpetual light and satisfaction. If so be we are tempted to think we have read all thy word, show us our mistake; may the wonder of its revelations, the awful suddenness of its surprises, be the outflaming of a fire we have never seen, from heaven—be the utterance of a new music, tender as our own sighing, loud as our own triumphing, surrounding us with all the grandeur and force of Almighty God. And if it enter into the heart of man to believe a lie, and to consider that he knows all that is written in thy book, and has fathomed the depths of infinitude and taken into his nostrils the whole breath of eternity, let him be rebuked even to his shame and confusion today, as hearing new tones and seeing new lights and being bowed down by undisclosed presences and unrevealed glory, so that he may say, The word of the Lord abideth for ever: it is the perpetual word, the everlasting testimony, and the incessant challenge to our minds.
O this wonderful life of ours, a truth, a lie, a reality, a delusion: something to be touched and yet never to be approached: here and yet there; luring us as if by mockery, and jeering our disappointment, and yet now and again opening up prospects and stretches of landscapes and visions of heaven and realities of being that astound the imagination and confound all attempts to explain it. O wondrous life—it is God in us, it is a spark of the essential fire. It is a voice from the eternal courts. O that we may be stewards of ourselves, that we may feel the responsibility of our own being, that we may find in Christ the only answer to our sin and the only consolation of our sorrow, the only interpretation of our discipline, our All and in all, today and yesterday and tomorrow and for ever the same, the eternal Christ, the eternal Judge.
If now and again we have been straying from thy way, even in our thinking—whilst our heart has been right, yet our thoughts have gone out to make new creations of pur own—surely thou hast brought us back again, humbled and subdued and broken in pieces, that we might ask for the old way and inquire for the ancient path, and drink again out of the river of God which is full of water. Thou dost not chide us to our destruction, but to our conversion: wherein we have hewn out cisterns, broken cisterns, their brokenness has been thy best correction, the disappointment has been the interpretation of thy purpose, and we have made a sword for our own hurt, and cut ourselves in pieces before the Lord.
O that we may in future cling to thy testimony, be steadfast to thy word, firm and loyal to thy revelation, contented with what thou hast shown unto us and receiving it with all thankfulness and delight, and yet with all the hopefulness of fuller revelation. If it be thy will, oh continue our days a little longer, but make our life as useful as it is continuous; may every day bear some fruit which shall be the development of some new grace: the formation of character, the ennobling of principle, the outwidening and glory of our best purpose and highest aspiration. And when the day is done, the work all closed, it will be our fruition to hear thee say, Well done.
Console the grief-stricken, lift up those that be bowed down; if any be in special perplexity or have a cloud of unusual gloom, Lord, look upon such—do thou meet them in all the pain of their need and comfort them with the infinite grace of God. Show us how brief our life is and how vain if it be not rooted in Christ. Lead us along with new penitence, new contrition and brokenheartedness to the cross of the Lamb of God, the Saviour of all mankind. Amen.
And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast sent messengers to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron, is it not because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word? therefore thou shalt not come down off that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.2Kings 8:16-29
16. ¶ And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign.
17. Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem.
18. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab: for the daughter of Ahab was his wife: and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
19. Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah for David his servant's sake, as he promised him to give him alway a light [Heb., candle or lamp], and to his children.
20. ¶ In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and made a king over themselves.
21. So Joram went over to Zair, and all the chariots with him: and he rose by night, and smote the Edomites which compassed him about, and the captains of the chariots: and the people fled into their tents.
22. Yet Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day. Then Libnah revolted at the same time.
23. And the rest of the acts [or history (2Chronicles 21:1-11)] of Joram, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
24. And Joram slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David [but not in the royal tombs (comp. 2Chronicles 22:1-6)]: and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead.
25. ¶ In the twelfth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel did Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah begin to reign.
26. Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah [called Jehoahaz (2Chronicles 21:17)] when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.
27. And he walked in the way of the house of Ahab, and did evil in the tight of the Lord, as did the house of Ahab: for he was the son-in-law of the house of Ahab,
28. ¶ And he went with Joram the son of Ahab to the war against Hazael king of Syria in Ramoth-gilead; and the Syrians wounded [smote] Joram.
29. And king Joram went back to be healed in Jezreel [the seat of the court at this time (comp. 2Kings 10:11, 2Kings 10:13)] of the wounds [Heb., wherewith the Syrians had wounded] which the Syrians had given him at Ramah, when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. And Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to see Joram the son of Ahab in Jezreel, because he was sick [wounded].
Jehoram King of Judah
These verses should be compared with the twenty-first chapter of the Second Book of Chronicles. The name Joram is an obvious contraction of Jehoram. Joram and Jehoram were almost interchangeable terms. The king of Israel is called Joram, and the king of Judah Jehoram. In another place Joram is the name of the king of Judah. In two other places both kings are called Jehoram.
Jehoram "walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab,"—in other words, as the house of Ahab acted; Jehoram as son-in-law of Ahab and Jezebel gave his patronage to the worship of the Tyrian Baal. Jehoram had examples enough before him of the fate which had befallen idolatrous worship, and yet, turning his eye backward upon all the ruins which had been created by divine anger, he pursued his evil way as if the Lord had approved the house of Ahab and its idolatry rather than manifested his judgments upon them. Rational men may well ask themselves how it is that history is lost upon some minds; they look backward and see that from the beginning sin has always been followed by punishment, and punishment has in many cases been carried as far as death itself; yet in view of all the suffering, and in full sight of the innumerable graves dug by the hand of justice, they continue the same policy without one particle of alteration. One would have supposed that, looking at the history of the kings of Israel, Jehoram would have said: I see now exactly what to avoid; and to see what to avoid is to begin to see what to cultivate and establish: it is perfectly evident that the worship of Baal is doomed, or that wherever it is set up divine anger instantly and severely attests the displeasure of God"; it must be my care, therefore, to destroy every trace of idolatry, and do my utmost to build up faith in the true God. This would have been called reflective and philosophical on the part of the king, and indeed anything opposed to this course of reasoning would appear to be marked by incredible fatuity: the contrary, however, is the exact fact: with all the evidences of divine displeasure around him Jehoram continued in the worship of Baal, or in some other form of idolatry which might appeal to the popular imagination or gratify the desires of his own corrupt fancy. It is easy for moralists to condemn this neglect of history, and to point out to those who, having neglected it, come into suffering and loss, that they ought to have been wise before the event; but the very same thing is done even by the moralists who criticise the course of Jehoram and his predecessors. This is the sin of every age, and it should be looked at clearly and acknowledged frankly, because until we do bring ourselves into vital relation to it our reasoning will be founded on false bases and will hasten itself to false conclusions. All history is teaching us that the wages of sin is death, that the way of transgressors is hard, that though hand join in hand the wicked shall not go unpunished, that the face of the Lord is as a flint against evil-doers; and yet with this plainest of all lessons written on the very face of history men are doing today as their predecessors did centuries ago, and will probably continue to repeat the folly and the wickedness until the end of time. Surely this is as curious a puzzle as any that occurs in all the annals of human history. It would seem indeed to be more than a puzzle; to be, in fact, indicative of a suicidal disposition on the part of the actor: it would not be tolerated in any other department of life: if a man had known that a hundred of his ancestors were killed by drinking a certain liquid, and he himself put that liquid to his lips, the iniquity of his suicide would be aggravated by the knowledge of what had occurred in the records of his family. How many murders, then, may he be said to accomplish who murders himself as to his moral nature and spiritual cultivation? He does not do it in ignorance. All history is surrounding him with its evidence, and doing its utmost to secure his attention, and he himself is not unwilling to acknowledge that the testimony of history is uniform and absolute, yet some immeasurable force within him drives him with infinite fury to the repetition of every sin and the defiance of every judgment.
What was the reason of all this patronage and support of idolatry? Jehoram had an excellent father, and if anything was to be expected from the operation of the law of hereditary dispositions, it would be that Jehoram would be of the same quality as Jehoshaphat. Some curious and energetic influence must have been at work to throw back all hereditary quality and convert the man into a totally different nature. What was that influence? An expression in the eighteenth verse explains its nature and its scope—"for the daughter of Ahab was his wife." Whenever we find the name of Ahab we find the presence of evil. Ahab lived again in his daughter, though Jehoshaphat did not repeat himself in his son. "The evil that men do lives after them." Jehoram was under home influence; is not home influence the most potent of all? It is a daily influence; it begins with the early morning and continues all the day through; it does not assume aggressive attitudes or excite suspicion by tumult and defiance of temper; it is noisy or quiet, persistent or reluctant, energetic or languid, according to the peculiar circumstances of the family history: at this moment a word too energetically spoken might defeat its own object; at another moment a languid reference might be more than a vehement appeal; on other occasions anger, fury, clamour may bring to a point a long process of suggestion and education. This is the mystery of home-life. The plotter waits for opportunities, creates them, puts them in the way of his victim, measures distances, regulates the method of approaches; the plotter studies his prey, watches him with an evil eye, remembers all his words, weighs them, calculates all their unspoken meanings, and at the right moment interposes his own influence. Wicked men in this respect are often models to good men. The enemy of souls never rests. "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour;" nor is he always a lion: sometimes he is as a serpent, and sometimes even as an angel of light: but his evil policy never hesitates; when he blesses it is that he may curse; when he leads his victim into the light it is that he may have the greater influence over him to persuade him into the darkness. Is it of no consequence with whom we live our daily life? Is the married relation one that expresses mere taste or momentary pleasure? Are not the companionships of life its true sources of tuition and inspiration? A man who is in happy fellowship at home may overget some of the worst hereditary infirmities and disablities, and may be encouraged into attainments of self-discipline and virtue which under other circumstances would be simply impossible. The conversion of the world it would seem, must begin at home. We must have happier married relations, fuller domestic confidence, riper household trust and sympathy; out of all this daily education under happy influences there may come a kind of character rich in its own quality and beneficent in its influence upon society.
Jehoram had provoked the Lord, yet so pitiful is the God of heaven that he spared Judah for David his servant's sake, as he promised to give David alway a light. But Jehoram was nevertheless severely punished for his wickedness. In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah and made a king over themselves. Libnah revolted at the same time. Thus the peace of the kingdom was broken up, and Jehoram was made indirectly to suffer for the sin of idolatry. How quietly the twenty-third verse reads, "And the rest of the acts of Joram, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?" It would seem as if the bad king had simply fallen asleep like a tired child. But let us inquire further into the method of the king's death. We find the particulars in the Second Book of Chronicles:
"Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah thereto. And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father's house, which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will the Lord smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day. Moreover 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 into 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 his bowels with an incurable disease. And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers" (2Chronicles 21:11-19).
This is the end! Who would choose it? Elijah in his extreme age sent a written prophecy to Jehoram. Terrible are the charges which prophets of God drive home upon the heart of wicked men! Jehovah not only smote with a great smiting the people and the sons of Jehoram, but he sent upon the king himself a most awful disease. We read that Jehoram died of sore diseases, and the "people made no burning for him," that is, the usual honours of a sovereign were withheld in this particular case. He died in contempt and neglect. He departed without being desired; in other words, he departed without regret, or died unregretted. He was indeed not refused burial in the city of David, but his body was not laid in the sepulchres of the kings. Thus, sooner or later, wickedness finds out a man, and brands him with dishonour. If under other conditions wickedness is carried to the grave amid great pomp and circumstance, it is only that the dishonour may be found in some other quarter, in the hatred of good men, and in the bitter recriminations of those who have been wronged. Set it down as a sure doctrine, that wherever a bad man is buried, dishonour attaches to his whole name, and contempt withers every flower that may be planted upon his grave. The words "but not in the sepulchres of the kings" may receive a larger interpretation than the technical one which belongs to this immediate circumstance. Men are buried in the sepulchres of the kings when their lives are full of beneficence, when their names are the symbols of noble charity, large-minded justice, heroic fortitude, tender sympathy for others; their burying-place is not a merely topographical point; their relation to the hearts that knew them, their place in the memory of those who lived with them, the tears which are shed over the recollection of their good deeds, the void which has been created by their removal, all these constitute the royalty of their interment. Let us so live that there will be no "but" in the designation of our last resting-place; be that resting-place where it may, in the sea, in the wilderness, in the choice garden, in a cemetery emulous in beauty with paradise itself, it shall indeed be the sepulchre of the kings. We need be under no concern respecting our burial: our one solicitude should relate to the method of our life. Let us follow the true worship, fear God and keep his commandments, practise the pure religion and undefiled commended by Jesus Christ; let us cling to the cross of the Saviour, and look to his omnipotent priesthood for our salvation, and leave all questions of burial, without troubling ourselves concerning them. God will know where our bodies repose, and send his angels to watch those who sleep in Jesus.