"And the destruction of Ahaziah was of God, by coming to Joram; for, when he was come, he went out with Jehoram against Jehu the son of Nimshi, whom the Lord had anointed to cut off the house of Ahab." -- 2 CHRON. xxii.7.
We rarely read this part of the Bible. And I do not wonder at it. For those particular chapters are undoubtedly dreary and monotonous. They contain the names of a number of incompetent and worthless kings who did nothing that was worth writing about, and who were singularly alike, so that when you have heard the story of one of them you know pretty well the story of all. It is the good lives that furnish attractive reading, because there is so much individuality and variety in them, so many pictorial lights and shadows. A novel in which all the characters are mean, would be read by nobody. The blackness needs to be relieved by something good, for darkness is always monotonous. Bad men show a dreary sameness in their thoughts and doings, their rise and fall. The godly are like nature illumined by the sunlight, manifold and infinite; the wicked are like nature when the darkness covers it, uniform and dismal. Nearly all that is said in the Bible about these bad kings, is that they walked in the ways of Ahab or Jeroboam or some other wicked person, that they closely imitated the doings of their model. The Bible does not waste space in describing them more accurately. One or two specimens do for all.
But certain things are said about Ahaziah which afford room for reflection, and may, perhaps, be useful to us if we take them in a right way.
And first let me give you a lesson in genealogy. These lessons are often very wearisome. Let two men get on talking about who was the cousin, father, grandfather, great-grandmother, and what not of such a person, and you begin at once to wish that you were out of it, or that you could quietly go to sleep until they settle the question; and yet it is not so unimportant as it seems. When a man writes a biography he deems it his duty to go back three or four generations, and tell you what sort of fathers and mothers and grandmothers and even great-grandsires his hero had. It is very wearisome, but it is very necessary. The story is not complete without that -- for breed and ancestry go quite as far with men as with cattle, and often further.
Ahaziah's descent was right on one side, but it was very mean on the other. He had David's blood in his veins, and Jehoshaphat's, and mingled with that, the venom of heathenism. His mother was Athaliah, and Athaliah was the daughter of Jezebel, and Jezebel was a licentious heathen princess whom Ahab on an evil day had made his wife.
There is nothing in the Bible more tragical and more infamous than the story of this woman Jezebel, and the part which she took in shaping the destiny of the Jewish nation. She was a Syro-Phenician princess, whose father ruled over the powerful and wealthy cities of Tyre and Sidon. Ahab was caught by her beauty, and by the attractive political alliance of which she was the pledge. Some think that the forty-fifth Psalm had reference to her, which speaks of the daughter of Tyre coming with gold of Ophir, splendidly arrayed, and bringing a handsome dowry with her. Ahab thought he was marrying wealth and dignity, and providing for the greatness of his house, and, as often happens in such marriages, he forgot to ask for a certificate of character, forgot to ask what sort of mother he was providing for his children. She came with all her meretricious splendour covering one of the most fiendish natures that ever wore a woman's form. She developed, if she did not bring with her, all imaginable vices -- her vindictive passion revelled in blood; her religion was the filthiest licentiousness; her beauty became the painted face of a common harlot. Her figure stands forth in the Bible as the very worst exemplification of the dark possibilities of human nature. Tennyson says men do not mount as high as the best of women -- but they scarce can sink as low as the worst. For men at most differ as heaven and earth; but women, worst and best, as heaven and hell. And this woman became, alas, the mother of kings; and all who went forth from her inherited her nature, and forgot nothing of her training. For several generations the taint of her evil influence was felt throughout the whole court life of Israel, and the licentious abominations which she had introduced infected the whole national life. Ahab married for money and position, and this was what came of it.
Her influence extended also to the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoram, King of Judah, must needs marry Ahab's daughter, Athaliah, who was the exact counterpart of her mother, Jezebel. Another wedding in which morals and religion were sacrificed on the altar of gain -- for by means of it a small kingdom was to be cemented in alliance with a greater, and another rich dowry to be secured. And the same dreary results followed -- a court corrupted with all manner of impurity, sons and daughters initiated into all the mysteries of wickedness, demoralisation spreading all around.
In this atmosphere Ahaziah was trained. His mother's name, says the record briefly, was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri, that is, the direct daughter of Jezebel. He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly -- wherefore he did evil in the sight of the Lord, for they were his counsellors after the death of his father to his destruction. What else could result in a home of which Athaliah was the head, in which the main training and influence were supplied by one of Jezebel's brood. The significant feature in all these Chronicles is the immense influence of women in shaping the lives and characters of kings. The men seem to have little to do with it; the women are almost supreme. Sons do not take after their fathers but after their mothers. Again and again we read of a good king who had a wicked father -- Josiah, Hezekiah, and others. They shake off their evil inheritance; they refuse to follow in their fathers' steps; they destroy idolatry, and endeavour to redeem Israel from its iniquity. But whenever this is the case you do not look far without discovering the cause. A good mother has been at work -- woman's gracious influence has counteracted against the pernicious example of the father. And, on the other hand, we have a long list of vile and idolatrous kings, whose fathers were either comparatively worthy, or full of downright godliness, and then, invariably, there is some evil-minded royal consort at the back of it. Whenever we can get into the secrets of court life, we find that the character of the wife determines the moral weight and form of the royal children. It is her training that shapes the men. How could it be otherwise indeed? What time had those kings to spend on home matters, what with their fighting, judging, governing, and attending to all the affairs of empire? How could they do a father's work and watch the training of the future kings? It was left to the mothers, and unhappy they who had mothers like Ahaziah's.
And is not this an everlasting story, true to-day as it was in those old days? It is the mother's hand mainly that shapes men for good or evil. Women more than men make the atmosphere of home -- the atmosphere which young lives breathe, and breathing never lose. The wise woman buildeth her house -- the foolish plucketh it down with her hands. What time does a father spend in disciplining the moral and spiritual nature of his children? That has to be done in the hours when he is toiling in the warehouse, or resting wearily after the labours of the day, or surely it is not done at all. From a mother the child receives all its early religious thoughts. By her the Bible stories are taught, and through her lips the good book comes to be loved. None can do it except her. It is her eyes that watch every moral movement in the young life -- every sign of change -- every incipient error -- every beginning of good and evil habit. No eyes can detect these things as quickly and as surely as hers. And if she is too careless to discover them, they will go unobserved and unchecked. Unhappy is the mother who gives to society, or to friendship, or to pleasure the time which she owes to her sons and daughters, for she will have to reap in vain regrets the penalty of her neglect. How rarely do good and true women and men go forth from a home in which a mother has been too busy with the giddy affairs of the pleasurable world to teach and pray with her children. Still more rarely do permanently evil and incorrigible lives go forth from a home in which a noble and religious mother has made it the chief business of her life to mould and train her children in paths of pure thought and reverent purpose. There is no religious work which a woman can do that equals this in importance, and none which secures such sure and blessed results. That, then, is the main thought suggested by these chapters -- the measureless influence of women in forming lives for evil or for good.
Then comes the only other thing that we are told about this Ahaziah -- that he was killed because he happened to be found in evil company. He lived badly because he followed the counsels of his mother, we read, and he died suddenly and tragically because he endeavoured to be on very friendly terms with his mother's relatives. He was King of Judah, and Judah with all its sins still worshipped God and was comparatively free from idolatry. But Israel, over which Jehoram, his mother's brother ruled, was given up to all the abominations of heathenism. Its court was a horrible sink of iniquity, and God's judgment had gone forth against it and all its doings. Ahaziah must needs join hands and pledge friendship with his relatives, and for that purpose visited them -- probably he did not intend to do more. It was just to look at the doings of this court, and have a taste of its pleasures, and then come back again. But once there he was led on from step to step -- found Jehoram's company very attractive, entered into his plans, went out with him to battle, took part, no doubt, in the worship of his gods, and then while the two were going hand and glove together, the long-deferred judgment of God fell on Jezebel's house. The soldier raised up by God for that purpose swooped down upon the wicked king and his favourites with resistless force, making no distinction; and Ahaziah, being one of the band, shared in the general destruction.
The destruction of Ahaziah, says the Book, was of God, by coming to Jehoram. By his coquetting with evil he was made to pay the last penalty. So runs the story, and it seems far removed from everything that concerns our lives -- yet not so far -- things of a similar kind are happening every day. Men who tread the ways of sinners, who enter into any sort of fellowship with them, often find themselves involved very strangely and suddenly in their shame and their punishment. You cannot go into ways of evil men, or visit any forbidden scenes, or lend your countenance in any way to their doings, even though you have no further intention than just to look on, but there is ever hanging over you the sword of detection. The policeman appears, or God's light is let down upon the scene, and you are discovered as having part in it, and your name is stained and your character gone, and your life marked with a perpetual stigma of disgrace. When God's Judgment comes on sin it always involves some who are just hovering on the edge of it, as well as those who are in the thick of it. You ought not to be there. Remember Ahaziah.
And there are some evil natures and some evil things which a man cannot touch in even the slightest degree without being led on from step to step, as Ahaziah was, until he was in the thick of Jehoram's iniquity. A young woman cannot enter a gin-palace and drink her glass at the counter -- as I see scores do any night -- without gradually going further and losing all the modesty and grace of womanhood. A young man cannot touch gambling in any of its forms without almost inevitably being drawn under its fascinations, as one who is slowly involved in a wily serpent's coils. An English bishop thinks and has said that a little betting is allowable, that if you only indulge moderately in it, you may do it with impunity. He might as well have said that if you only steal coppers the law will smile upon you, but if you steal gold you will come in for its stripes. He might as well have said, "If you only put your little finger in this fire it will not hurt you, but if you thrust your whole hand in, it will burn." There can be no moderation in a thing which is essentially and in all its principles based on dishonesty and corruption, and evil excitement and evil greed. I am profoundly sorry that such a thing has been said by one whose word has so much authority and influence. It will be taken by thousands as an encouragement to do what they are only too prone and eager to do. Who shall curse what a father in Christ has condescended to bless? We need rather to have all Christian hands and voices raised in passionate and tearful denunciation of that which is doing more than anything else to demoralise our youth and eat away the very morals of the nation. We need to warn against it and denounce it in whatever form and degree it is practised, and to say, "Touch not, taste not, handle not the accursed thing."
We must keep away altogether from the men who delight in evil paths, and from the things, the very touch of which defiles. Go not in their way, pass not by it. "If sinners entice thee, consent thou not." Learn the lesson of Ahaziah's life, and how his fall came because he consorted with wickeder men than himself, and was anxious to see their doings.