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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

2 Chronicles 20

 

 

Verses 1-37

JEHOSHAPHAT-THE DOCTRINE OF NONRESISTANCE

2 Chronicles 17:1-19; 2 Chronicles 18:1-34; 2 Chronicles 19:1-11; 2 Chronicles 20:1-37

ASA was succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat, and his reign began even more auspiciously than that of Asa. The new king had apparently taken warning from the misfortunes of Asa’s closing years; and as he was thirty-five years old when he came to the throne, he had been trained before Asa fell under the Divine displeasure. He walked in the first ways of his father David, before David was led away by Satan to number Israel. Jehoshaphat’s heart was lifted up, not with foolish pride, like Hezekiah’s, but "in the ways of Jehovah." He sought the God of his father, and walked in God’s commandments, and was not led astray by the evil example and influence of the kings of Israel, neither did he seek the Baals. While Asa had been enfeebled by illness and alienated from Jehovah, the high places and the Asherim had sprung up again like a crop of evil weeds; but Jehoshaphat once more removed them. According to the chronicler, this removing of high places was a very labor of Sisyphus: the stone was no sooner rolled up to the top of the hill than it rolled down again. Jehoshaphat seems to have had an inkling of this; he felt that the destruction of idolatrous sanctuaries and symbols was like mowing down weeds and leaving the roots in the soil. Accordingly he made an attempt to deal more radically with the evil: he would take away the inclination as well as the opportunity for corrupt rites. A commission of princes, priests, and Levites was sent throughout all the cities of Judah to instruct the people in the law of Jehovah. Vice will always find opportunities; it is little use to suppress evil institutions unless the people are educated out of evil propensities. If, for instance, every public-house in England were closed tomorrow, and there were still millions of throats craving for drink, drunkenness would still prevail, and a new administration would promptly reopen gin-shops.

Because the new king thus earnestly and consistently sought the God of his fathers, Jehovah was with him, and established the kingdom in his hand. Jehoshaphat received all the marks of Divine favorer usually bestowed upon good kings. He waxed great exceedingly; he had many fortresses, an immense army, and much wealth; he built castles and cities of store; he had arsenals for the supply of war material in the cities of Judah. And these cities, together with other defensible positions and the border cities of Ephraim occupied by Judah, were held by strong garrisons. While David had contented himself with two hundred and eighty-eight thousand men from all Israel, and Abijah had led forth four hundred thousand, and Asa five hundred and eighty thousand, there waited on Jehoshaphat, in addition to his numerous garrisons, eleven hundred and sixty thousand men. Of these seven hundred and eighty thousand were men of Judah in three divisions, and three hundred and eighty thousand were Benjamites in two divisions. Probably the steady increase of the armies of Abijah, Asa, and Jehoshaphat symbolizes a proportionate increase of Divine favor.

The chronicler records the names of the captains of the five divisions. Two of them are singled out for special commendation: Eliada the Benjamite is styled "a mighty man of valor," and of the Jewish captain Amaziah the son of Zichri it is said that he offered either himself or his possessions willingly to Jehovah, as David and his princes had offered, for the building of the Temple. The devout king had devout officers.

He had also devoted subjects. All Judah brought him presents, so that he had great riches and ample means to sustain his royal power and splendor. Moreover, as in the case of Solomon and Asa, his piety was rewarded with freedom from war: "The fear of Jehovah fell upon all the kingdoms round about, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat." Some of his weaker neighbors were overawed by the spectacle of his great power; the Philistines brought him presents and tribute money, and the Arabians immense flocks of rams and he-goats, seven thousand seven hundred of each.

Great prosperity had the usual fatal effect upon Jehoshaphat’s character. In the beginning of his reign he had strengthened himself against Israel and had refused to walk in their ways; now power had developed ambition, and he sought and obtained the honor of marrying his son Jehoram to Athaliah the daughter of Ahab, the mighty and magnificent king of Israel, possibly also the daughter of the Phoenician princess Jezebel, the devotee of Baal. This family connection of course implied political alliance. After a time Jehoshaphat went down to visit his new ally, and was hospitably received. [2 Chronicles 18:1-3]

Then follows the familiar story of Micaiah the son of Imlah, the disastrous expedition of the two kings, and the death of Ahab, almost exactly as in the book of Kings. There is one significant alteration: both narratives tell us how the Syrian captains attacked Jehoshaphat because they took him for the king of Israel and gave up their pursuit when he cried out, and they discovered their mistake; but the chronicler adds the explanation that Jehovah helped him and God moved them to depart from him. And so the master of more than a million soldiers was happy in being allowed to escape on account of his insignificance, and returned in peace to Jerusalem. Oded and Hanani had met his predecessors on their return from victory; now Jehu the son of Hanani met Jehoshaphat when he came home defeated. Like his father, the prophet was charged with a message of rebuke. An alliance with the Northern Kingdom was scarcely less reprehensible than one with Syria: "Shouldest thou help the wicked, and love them that hate Jehovah? Jehovah is wroth with thee." Asa’s previous reforms were not allowed to mitigate the severity of his condemnation, but Jehovah was more merciful to Jehoshaphat. The prophet makes mention of his piety and his destruction of idolatrous symbols, and no further punishment is inflicted upon him.

The chronicler’s addition to the account of the king’s escape from the Syrian captains reminds us that God still watches over and protects His children even when they are in the very act of sinning against Him. Jehovah knew that Jehoshaphat’s sinful alliance with Ahab did not imply complete revolt and apostasy. Hence doubtless the comparative mildness of the prophet’s reproof.

When Jehu’s father Hanani rebuked Asa, the king flew into a passion, and cast the prophet into prison; Jehoshaphat received Jehu’s reproof in a very different spirit: he repented himself, and found a new zeal in his penitence. Learning from his own experience the proneness of the human’ heart to go astray, he went out himself amongst his people to bring them back to Jehovah; and just as Asa in his apostasy oppressed his people, Jehoshaphat in his renewed loyalty to Jehovah showed himself anxious for good government. He provided judges in all the walled towns of Judah, with a court of appeal at Jerusalem; he solemnly charged them to remember their responsibility to Jehovah, to avoid bribery, and not to truckle to the rich and powerful. Being themselves faithful to Jehovah, they were to inculcate a like obedience and warn the people not to sin against the God of their fathers. Jehoshaphat’s exhortation to his new judges concludes with a sentence whose martial resonance suggests trial by combat rather than the peaceful proceedings of a law-court: "Deal courageously, and Jehovah defend the right!"

The principle that good government must be a necessary consequence of piety in the rulers has not been so uniformly observed in later times as in the pages of Chronicles. The testimony of history on this point is not altogether consistent. In spite of all the faults of the orthodox and devout Greek emperors Theodosius the Great and Marcian, their administration rendered important services to the empire. Alfred the Great was a distinguished statesman and warrior as well as zealous for true religion. St. Louis of France exercised a wise control over Church and state. It is true that when a woman reproached him in open court with being a king of friars, of priests, and of clerks, and not a true king of France, he replied with saintly meekness, "You say true! It has pleased the Lord to make me king; it had been well if it had pleased Him to make some one king who had better ruled the realm." But something must be allowed for the modesty of the saint; apart from his unfortunate crusades, it would have been difficult for France or even Europe to have furnished a more beneficent sovereign. On the other hand, Charlemagne’s successor, the Emperor Louis the Pious, and our own kings Edward the Confessor and the saintly Henry VI, were alike feeble and inefficient; the zeal of the Spanish kings and their kinswoman Mary Tudor is chiefly remembered for its ghastly cruelty; and in comparatively recent times the misgovernment of the States of the Church was a byword throughout Europe. Many causes combined to produce this mingled record. The one most clearly contrary to the chronicler’s teaching was an immoral opinion that the Christian should cease to be a citizen, and that the saint has no duties to society. This view is often considered to be the special vice of monasticism, but it reappears in one form or another in every generation. The failure of the administration of Louis the Pious is partly explained when we read that he was with difficulty prevented from entering a monastery. In our own day there are those who think that a newspaper should have no interest for a really earnest Christian. According to their ideas, Jehoshaphat should have divided his time between a private oratory in his palace and the public services of the Temple, and have left his kingdom to the mercy of unjust judges at home and heathen enemies abroad, or else have abdicated in favor of some kinsman whose heart was not so perfect with Jehovah. The chronicler had a clearer insight into Divine methods, and this doctrine of his is not one that has been superseded together with the Mosaic ritual.

Possibly the martial tone of the sentence that concludes the account of Jehoshaphat as the Jewish Justinian is due to the influence upon the chronicler’s mind of die incident which he now describes.

Jehoshaphat’s next experience was parallel to that of Asa with Zerah. When his new reforms were completed, he was menaced with a formidable invasion. His new enemies were almost as distant and strange as the Ethiopians and Lubim who had followed Zerah. We hear nothing about any king of Israel or Damascus, the usual leaders of assaults upon Judah; we hear instead of a triple alliance against Judah. Two of the allies are Moab and Ammon; but the Jewish kings were not wont to regard these as irresistible foes, so that the extreme dismay which takes possession of king and people must be due to the third ally: the Meunim we have already met with in connection with the exploits of the children of Simeon in the reign of Hezekiah; they are also mentioned in the reign of Uzziah, and nowhere else, unless indeed they are identical with the Maonites, who are named with the Amalekites in 10:12. They are thus a people peculiar to Chronicles, and appear from this narrative to have inhabited Mount Seir, by which term "Meunim" is replaced as the story proceeds. Since the chronicler wrote so long after the events he describes, we cannot attribute to him any very exact knowledge of political geography. Probably the term "Meunim" impressed his contemporaries very much as it does a modern reader, and suggested countless hordes of Bedouin plunderers; Josephus calls them a great army of Arabians. This host of invaders came from Edom, and having marched round the southern end of the Dead Sea, were now at Engedi, on its western shore. The Moabites and Ammonites might have crossed the Jordan by the fords near Jericho; but this route would not have been convenient for their allies the Meunim, and would have brought them into collision with the forces of the Northern Kingdom.

On this occasion Jehoshaphat does not seek any foreign alliance. He does not appeal to Syria, like Asa, nor does he ask Ahab’s successor to repay in kind the assistance given to Ahab at Ramoth-gilead, partly perhaps because there was no time, but chiefly because he had learnt the truth which Hanani had sought to teach his father, and which Hanani’s son had taught him. He does not even trust in his own hundreds of thousands of soldiers, all of whom cannot have perished at Ramoth-gilead; his confidence is placed solely and absolutely in Jehovah. Jehoshaphat and his people made no military preparations; subsequent events justified their apparent neglect: none were necessary. Jehoshaphat sought Divine help instead, and proclaimed a fast throughout Judah; and all Judah gathered themselves to Jerusalem to ask help of Jehovah. This great national assembly met "before the new court" of the Temple. The chronicler, who is supremely interested in the Temple buildings, has told us nothing about any new court, nor is it mentioned elsewhere; our author is probably giving the title of a corresponding portion of the second Temple: the place where the people assembled to meet Jehoshaphat would be the great court built by Solomon. [2 Chronicles 4:9]

Here Jehoshaphat stood up as the spokesman of the nation, and prayed to Jehovah on their behalf and on his own. He recalls the Divine omnipotence; Jehovah is God of earth and heaven, God of Israel and Ruler of the heathen, and therefore able to help even in this great emergency:-

"O Jehovah, God of our fathers, art Thou not God in heaven? Dost Thou not rule all the kingdoms of the heathen? And in Thy hand is power and might, so that none is able to withstand Thee."

The land of Israel had been the special gift of Jehovah to His people, in fulfillment of His ancient promise to Abraham:-

"Didst not Thou, O our God, dispossess the inhabitants of this land in favor of Thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham Thy friend forever?"

And now long possession had given Israel a prescriptive right to the Land of Promise; and they had, so to speak, claimed their rights in the most formal and solemn fashion by erecting a temple to the God of Israel. Moreover, the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple had been accepted by Jehovah as the basis of His covenant with Israel, and Jehoshaphat quotes a clause from that prayer or covenant which had expressly provided for such emergencies as the present:-

"And they" (Israel) "dwelt in the land, and built Thee therein a sanctuary for Thy name, saying, If evil come upon us, the sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before Thee (for Thy name is in this house), and cry unto Thee in our affliction; and Thou wilt hear and save."

Moreover, the present invasion was not only an attempt to set aside Jehovah’s disposition of Palestine and the long-established rights of Israel: it was also gross ingratitude, a base return for the ancient forbearance of Israel towards her present enemies:-

"And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom Thou wouldest not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned aside from them and destroyed them not-behold how they reward us by coming to dispossess us of Thy possession which Thou hast caused us to possess."

For this nefarious purpose the enemies of Israel had come up in overwhelming numbers, but Judah was confident in the justice of its cause and the favor of Jehovah:-

"O our God, wilt Thou not execute judgment against them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us, neither know we what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee."

Meanwhile the great assemblage stood in the attitude of supplication before Jehovah, not a gathering of mighty men of valor praying for blessing upon their strength and courage, but a mixed multitude, men and women, children and infants, seeking sanctuary, as it were, at the Temple, and casting themselves in their extremity upon the protecting care of Jehovah. Possibly when the king finished his prayer the assembly broke out into loud, wailing cries of dismay and agonized entreaty; but the silence of the narrative rather suggests that Jehoshaphat’s strong, calm faith communicated itself to the people, and they waited quietly for Jehovah’s answer, for some token or promise of deliverance. Instead of the confused cries of an excited crowd, there was a hush of expectancy, such as sometimes falls upon an assembly when a great statesman has risen to utter words which will be big with the fate of empires.

And the answer came, not by fire from heaven or any visible sign, not by voice of thunder accompanied by angelic trumpets, nor by angel or archangel, but by a familiar voice hitherto unsuspected of any supernatural gifts, by a prophetic utterance whose only credentials were given by the influence of the Spirit upon the speaker and his audience. The chronicler relates with evident satisfaction how, in the midst of that great congregation, the Spirit of Jehovah came, not upon king, or priest, or acknowledged prophet, but upon a subordinate minister of the Temple, a Levite and member of the Temple choir like himself. He is careful to fix the identity of this newly called prophet and to gratify the family pride of existing Levitical families by giving the prophet’s genealogy for several generations. He was Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, of the sons of Asaph. The very names were encouraging. What more suitable names could be found for a messenger of Divine mercy than Jahaziel-"God gives prophetic vision" - the son of Zechariah-"Jehovah remembers?"

Jahaziel’s message showed that Jehoshaphat’s prayer had been accepted; Jehovah responded without reserve to the confidence reposed in Him: He would vindicate His own authority by delivering Judah; Jehoshaphat should have blessed proof of the immense superiority of simple trust in Jehovah over an alliance with Ahab or the king of Damascus. Twice the prophet exhorts the king and people in the very words that Jehovah had used to encourage Joshua when the death of Moses had thrown upon him all the heavy responsibilities of leadership: "Fear not, nor be dismayed." They need no longer cling like frightened suppliants to the sanctuary, but are to go forth at once, the very next day, against the enemy. That they may lose no time in looking for them, Jehovah announces the exact spot where the enemy are to be found: "Behold, they are coming by the ascent of Hazziz, and ye shall find them at the end of the ravine before the wilderness of Jeruel." This topographical description was doubtless perfectly intelligible to the chronicler’s contemporaries, but it is no longer possible to fix exactly the locality of Hazziz or Jeruel. The ascent of Hazziz has been identified with the Wady Husasa, which leads up from the coast of the Dead Sea north of Engedi, in the direction of Tekoa; but the identification is by no means certain.

The general situation, however, is fairly clear: the allied invaders would come up from the coast into the highlands of Judah by one of the wadies leading inland; they were to be met by Jehoshaphat and his people on one of the "wildernesses," or plateaus of pasture-land, in the neighborhood of Tekoa.

But the Jews went forth, not as an army, but in order to be the passive spectators of a great manifestation of the power of Jehovah. They had no concern with the numbers and prowess of their enemies; Jehovah Hiresell would lay bare His mighty arm, and Judah should see that no foreign ally, no millions of native warriors, were necessary for their salvation: "Ye shall not need to fight in this battle; take up your position, stand still and see the deliverance of Jehovah with you, O Judah and Jerusalem."

Thus had Moses addressed Israel on the eve of the passage of the Red Sea. Jehoshaphat and his people owned and honored the Divine message as if Jahaziel were another Moses; they prostrated themselves on the ground before Jehovah. The sons of Asaph had already been privileged to provide Jehovah with His prophet; these Asaphites represented the Levitical clan of Gershom: but now the Kohathites, with their guild of singers, the sons of Korah, "stood up to praise Jehovah, the God of Israel, with as exceeding loud voice," as the Levites sang when the foundations of the second Temple were laid, and when Ezra and Nehemiah made the people enter into a new covenant with their God.

Accordingly on the morrow the people rose early in the morning and went out to the wilderness of Tekoa, ten or twelve miles south of Jerusalem. In ancient times generals were wont to make a set speech to their armies before they led them into battle, so Jehoshaphat addresses his subjects as they pass out before him. He does not seek to make them confident in their own strength and prowess; he does not inflame their passions against Moab and Ammon, nor exhort them to be brave and remind them that they fight this day for the ashes of their fathers and the temple of their God. Such an address would have been entirely out of place, because the Jews were not going to fight at all. Jehoshaphat only bids them have faith in Jehovah and His prophets. It is a curious anticipation of Pauline teaching. Judah is to be "saved by faith" from Moab and Ammon, as the Christian is delivered by faith from sin and its penalty. The incident might almost seem to have been recorded in order to illustrate the truth that St. Paul was to teach. It is strange that there is no reference to this chapter in the epistles of St. Paul and St. James, and that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews does not remind us how "by faith Jehoshaphat was delivered from Moab and Ammon." There is no question of military order, no reference to the five great divisions into which the armies of Judah and Benjamin are divided in chapter 17. Here, as at Jericho, the captain of Israel is chiefly concerned to provide musicians to lead his army. When David was arranging for the musical services before the Ark, he took counsel with his captains. In this unique military expedition there is no mention of captains; they were not necessary, and if they were present there was no opportunity for them to show their skill and prowess in battle. In an even more democratic spirit Jehoshaphat takes counsel with the people-that is, probably makes some proposition, which is accepted with universal acclamation.

The Levitical singers, dressed in the splendid robes in which they officiated at the Temple, were appointed to go before the people, and offer praises unto Jehovah, and sing the anthem, "Give thanks unto Jehovah, for His mercy endureth forever." These words or their equivalent are the opening words, and the second clause the refrain, of the post-Exilic Psalms 106:1-48; Psalms 107:1-43; Psalms 118:1-29; Psalms 136:1-26. As the chronicler has already ascribed Psalms 106:1-48 to David, he possibly ascribes all four to David, and intends us to understand that one or all of them were sung by the Levites on this occasion. Later Judaism was in the habit of denoting a book or section of a book by its opening words.

And so Judah, a pilgrim caravan rather than an army, went on to its Divinely appointed tryst with its enemies, and at its head the Levitical choir sang the Temple hymns. It was not a campaign, but a sacred function, on a much larger scale a procession such as may be seen winding its way, with chants and incense, banners, images, and crucifixes, through the streets of Catholic cities.

Meanwhile Jehovah was preparing a spectacle to gladden the eyes of His people and reward their implicit faith and exact obedience; He was working for those who were waiting for Him. Though Judah was still far from its enemies, yet like the trumpet at Jericho, the strain of praise and thanksgiving was the signal for the Divine intervention: "When they began to sing and praise, Jehovah set liars in wait against the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Self." Who were these liars in wait? They could not be men of Judah: they were not to fight, but to be passive spectators of their own deliverance. Did the allies set an ambush for Judah, and was it thus that they were afterwards led to mistake their own people for enemies? Or does the chronicler intend us to understand that these "liars in wait" were spirits; that the allied invaders were tricked and bewildered like the shipwrecked sailors in the Tempest; or that when they came to the wilderness of Jeruel there fell upon them a spirit of mutual distrust, jealousy, and hatred, that had, as it were, been waiting for them there? But, from whatever cause, a quarrel broke out amongst them; and they were smitten. When Ammonite, Moabite, and Edomite met, there were many private and public feuds waiting their opportunity; and such confederates were as ready to quarrel among themselves as a group of Highland clans engaged in a Lowland foray.

"Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir utterly to slay and destroy them." But even Ammon and Moab soon dissolved their alliance; and at last, partly maddened by panic, partly intoxicated by a wild thirst for blood, a very Berserker frenzy, all ties of friendship and kindred were forgotten, and every man’s hand was against his brother. "When they had made an end of the inhabitants of Self, every one helped to destroy another."

While this tragedy was enacting, and the air was rent with the cruel yells of that death struggle, Jehoshaphat and his people moved on in tranquil pilgrimage to the cheerful sound of the songs of Zion. At last they reached an eminence, perhaps the long, low summit of some ridge overlooking the plateau of Jeruel. When they had gained this watchtower of the wilderness, the ghastly scene burst upon their gaze. Jehovah had kept His word: they had found their enemy. They "looked upon the multitude," all those hordes of heathen tribes that had filled them with terror and dismay. They were harmless enough now: the Jews saw nothing but "dead bodies fallen to the earth"; and in that Aceldama lay all the multitude of profane invaders who had dared to violate the sanctity of the Promised Land: "There were none that escaped." So had Israel looked back after crossing the Red Sea and seen the corpses of the Egyptians washed up on the shore. [Exodus 14:30] Set when the angel of Jehovah smote Sennacherib, -

"Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,

That host on the morrow lay withered and strown."

There is no touch of pity for the wretched victims of their own sins. Greeks of every city and tribe could feel the pathos of the tragic end of the Athenian expedition against Syracuse; but the Jews had no ruth for the kindred tribes that dwelt along their frontier, and the age of the chronicler had not yet learnt that Jehovah had either tenderness or compassion for the enemies of Israel.

The spectators of this carnage-we cannot call them victors-did not neglect to profit to the utmost by their great opportunity. They spent three days in stripping the dead bodies; and as Orientals delight in jewelled weapons and costly garments, and their chiefs take the field with barbaric ostentation of wealth, the spoil was both valuable and abundant: "riches, and raiment, and precious jewels more than they could carry away."

In collecting the spoil, the Jews had become dispersed through all the wide area over which the fighting between the confederates must have extended; but on the fourth day they gathered together again in a neighboring valley and gave solemn thanks for their deliverance: "There they blessed Jehovah; therefore the name of that place was called the valley of Berachah unto this day." West of Tekoa. not too far from the scene of carnage, a ruin and a wady still bear the name "Bereikut"; and doubtless in the chronicler’s time the valley was called Berachah, and local tradition furnished our author with this explanation of the origin of the name.

When the spoil was all collected, they returned to Jerusalem as they came, in solemn procession, headed, no doubt, by the Levites, with psalteries, and harps, and trumpets. They came back to the scene of their anxious supplications: to the house of Jehovah. But yesterday, as it were, they had assembled before Jehovah, terror-stricken at the report of an irresistible host of invaders; and today their enemies were utterly destroyed. They had experienced a deliverance that might rank with the Exodus; and as at that former deliverance they had spoiled the Egyptians, so now they had returned laden with the plunder of Moab, Ammon, and Edom. And all their neighbors were smitten with fear when they heard of the awful ruin which Jehovah had brought upon these enemies of Israel. No one would dare to invade a country where Jehovah laid a ghostly ambush of liars in wait for the enemies of His people. The realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, not because he was protected by powerful allies or by the swords of his numerous and valiant soldiers, but because Judah had become another Eden, and cherubim with flaming swords guarded the frontier on every hand, and "his God gave him rest round about."

Then follow the regular summary and conclusion of the history of the reign taken from the book of Kings, with the usual alterations in the reference to further sources of information. We are told here, in direct contradiction to 1 Chronicles 17:6 and to the whole tenor of the previous chapters, that the high places were not taken away, another illustration of the slight importance the chronicler attached to accuracy in details. He either overlooks the contradiction between passages borrowed from different sources, or else does not think it worth while to harmonize his inconsistent materials.

But after the narrative of the reign is thus formally closed the chronicler inserts a postscript, perhaps by a kind of after-thought. The book of Kings narrates [1 Kings 22:48-49] how Jehoshaphat made ships to go to Ophir for gold, but they were broken at Ezion-geber; then Ahaziah the son of Ahab proposed to enter into partnership with Jehoshaphat, and the latter rejected his proposal. As we have seen, the chronicler’s theory of retribution required some reason why so pious a king experienced misfortune. What sin had Jehoshaphat committed to deserve to have his ships broken? The chronicler has a new version of the story, which provides an answer to this question. Jehoshaphat did not build any ships by himself; his unfortunate navy was constructed in partnership with Ahaziah; and accordingly the prophet Eliezer rebuked him for allying himself a second time with a wicked king of Israel, and announced the coming wreck of the ships. And so it came about that the ships were broken, and the shadow of Divine displeasure rested on the last days of Jehoshaphat.

We have next to notice the chronicler’s most important omissions. The book of Kings narrates another alliance of Jehoshaphat with Jehoram, king of Israel, like his alliances with Ahab and Ahaziah. The narrative of this incident closely resembles that of the earlier joint expedition to Ramoth-Gilead. As then Jehoshaphat marched out with Ahab, so now he accompanies Ahab’s son Jehoram, taking with him his subject ally the king of Edom. Here also a prophet appears upon the scene; but on this occasion Elisha addresses no rebuke to Jehoshaphat for his alliance with Israel, but treats him with marked respect: and the allied army wins a great victory. If this narrative had been included in Chronicles, the reign of Jehoshaphat would not have afforded an altogether satisfactory illustration of the main lesson which the chronicler intended it to teach.

This main lesson was that the chosen people should not look for protection against their enemies either to foreign alliances or to their own military strength, but solely to the grace and omnipotence of Jehovah. One negative aspect of this principle has been enforced by the condemnation of Asa’s alliance with Syria and Jehoshaphat’s with Ahab and Ahaziah. Later on the uselessness of an army apart from Jehovah is shown in the defeat of "the great host" of Joash by "a small company" of Syrians. The positive aspect has been partially illustrated by the signal victories of Abijah and Asa against overwhelming odds and without the help of any foreign allies. But these were partial and unsatisfactory illustrations: Jehovah vouchsafed to share the glory of these victories with great armies that were numbered by the hundred thousand. And, after all, the odds were not so very overwhelming. Scores of parallels may be found in which the odds were much greater. In the case of vast Oriental hosts a superiority of two to one might easily be counterbalanced by discipline and valor in the smaller army.

The peculiar value to the chronicler of the deliverance from Moab, Ammon, and the Meunim lay in the fact that no human arm divided the glory with Jehovah. It was shown conclusively not merely that Judah could safely be contented with an army smaller than those of its neighbors, but that Judah would be equally safe with no army at all. We feel that this lesson is taught with added force when we remember that Jehoshaphat had a larger army than is ascribed to any Israelite or Jewish king after David. Yet he places no confidence in his eleven hundred and sixty thousand warriors, and he is not allowed to make any use of them. In the case of a king with small military resources, to trust in Jehovah might be merely making a virtue of necessity; but if Jehoshaphat, with his immense army, felt that his only real help was in his God, the example furnished an a fortiori argument which would conclusively show that it was always the duty and privilege of the Jews to say with the Psalmist, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of Jehovah our God." [Psalms 20:7] The ancient literature of Israel furnished illustrations of the principle: at the Red Sea the Israelites had been delivered without any exercise of their own warlike prowess; at Jericho, as at Jeruel, the enemy had been completely overthrown by Jehovah before His people rushed upon the spoil; and the same direct Divine intervention saved Jerusalem from Sennacherib. But the later history of the Jew’s had been a series of illustrations of enforced dependence upon Jehovah. A little semi-ecclesiastical community inhabiting a small province that passed from one great power to another like a counter in the game of international politics had no choice but to trust in Jehovah, if it were in any way to maintain its self-respect. For this community of the second Temple to have had confidence in its sword and bow would have seemed equally absurd to the Jews and to their Persian and Greek masters.

When they were thus helpless, Jehovah wrought for Israel, as He had destroyed the enemies of Jehoshaphat in the wilderness of Jeruel. The Jews stood still and saw the working out of their deliverance; great empires wrestled together like Moab, Ammon, and Edom, in the agony of the death struggle: and over all the tumult of battle Israel heard the voice of Jehovah, "The battle is not yours, but God’s; set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the deliverance of Jehovah with you, O Judah and Jerusalem." Before their eyes there passed the scenes of that great drama which for a time gave Western Asia Aryan instead of Semitic masters. For them the whole action had but one meaning: without calling Israel into the field, Jehovah was devoting to destruction the enemies of His people and opening up a way for His redeemed to return, like Jehoshaphat’s procession, to the Holy City and the Temple. The long series of wars became a wager of battle, in which Israel, herself a passive spectator, appeared by her Divine Champion; and the assured issue was her triumphant vindication and restoration to her ancient throne in Zion.

After the Restoration God’s protecting providence asked no armed assistance from Judah. The mandates of a distant court authorized the rebuilding of the Temple and the fortifying of the city. The Jews solaced their national pride and found consolation for their weakness and subjection in the thought that their ostensible masters were in reality only the instruments which Jehovah used to provide for the security and prosperity of His children.

We have already noticed that this philosophy of history is not peculiar to Israel. Every nation has a similar system, and regards its own interests as the supreme care of Providence. We have seen, too, that moral influences have controlled and checkmated material forces; God has fought against the biggest battalions. Similarly, the Jews are not the only people for whom deliverances have been worked out almost without any co-operation on their own part. It was not a Negro revolt, for instance, that set free the slaves of our colonies or of the Southern States. Italy regained her Eternal City as an incidental effect of a great war in which she herself took no part. Important political movements and great struggles involve consequences equally unforeseen and unintended by the chief actors in these dramas, consequences which would seem to them insignificant compared with more obvious results. Some obscure nation almost ready to perish is given a respite, a breathing space, in which it gathers strength; instead of losing its separate existence, it endures till time and opportunity make it one of the ruling influences in the world’s history: some Geneva or Wittenberg becomes, just at the right time, a secure refuge and vantage-ground for one of the Lord’s prophets. Our understanding of what God is doing in our time and our hopes for what He may yet do will indeed be small, if we think that God can do nothing for our cause unless our banner flies in the forefront of the battle, and the war-cry is "The sword of Gideon!" as well as "The sword of Jehovah!" There will be many battles fought in which we shall strike no blow and yet be privileged to divide the spoil. We sometimes "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah."

The chronicler has found disciples in these latter days of a kindlier spirit and more catholic sympathies. He and they have reached their common doctrines by different paths, but the chronicler teaches non-resistance as clearly as the Society of Friends. "When you have fully yielded yourself to the Divine teaching," he says, "you will neither fight yourself nor ask others to fight for you; you will simply stand still and watch a Divine providence protecting you and destroying your enemies." The Friends could almost echo this teaching, not perhaps laying quite so much stress on the destruction of the enemy, though among the visions of the earlier Friends there were many that revealed the coming judgments of the Lord; and the modern enthusiast is still apt to consider that his enemies are the Lord’s enemies and to call the gratification of his own revengeful spirit a vindication of the honor of the Lord and a satisfaction of outraged justice.

If the chronicler had lived today, the history of the Society of Friends might have furnished him with illustrations almost as apt as the destruction of the allied invaders of Judah. He would have rejoiced to tell us how a people that repudiated any resort to violence succeeded in conciliating savage tribes and founding the flourishing colony of Pennsylvania, and would have seen the hand of the Lord in the wealth and honor that have been accorded to a once despised and persecuted sect.

We should be passing to matters that were still beyond the chronicler’s horizon, if we were to connect his teaching with our Lord’s injunction, "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Such a sentiment scarcely harmonizes with the three days’ stripping of dead bodies in the wilderness of Jeruel. But though the chronicler’s motives for non-resistance were not touched and softened with the Divine gentleness of Jesus of Nazareth, and his object was not to persuade his hearers to patient endurance of wrong, yet he had conceived the possibility of a mighty faith that could put its fortunes unreservedly into the hands of God and trust Him with the issues. If we are ever to be worthy citizens of the kingdom of our Lord, it can only be by the sustaining power and inspiring influence of a like faith.

When we come to ask how far the people for whom he wrote responded to his teaching and carried it into practical life, we are met with one of the many instances of the grim irony of history. Probably the chronicler’s glowing vision of peaceful security, guarded on every hand by legions of angels, was partly inspired by the comparative prosperity of the time at which he wrote. Other considerations combine with this to suggest that the composition of his work beguiled the happy leisure of one of the brighter intervals between Ezra and the Maccabees.

Circumstances were soon to test the readiness of the Jews, in times of national danger, to observe the attitude of passive spectators and wait for a Divine deliverance. It was not altogether in this spirit that the priests met the savage persecutions of Antiochus. They made no lame attempts to exorcise this evil spirit with hymns, and psalteries, and harps, and trumpets; but the priest Mattathias and his sons slew the king’s commissioner and raised the standard of armed revolt. We do indeed find indications of something like obedience to the chronicler’s principles. A body of the revolted Jews were attacked on the Sabbath Day; they made no attempt to defend themselves: "When they gave them battle with all speed, they answered them not, neither cast they a stone at them, nor stopped the places where they lay hid and their enemies rose up against them on the sabbath, and slew them, with their wives, and their children, and their cattle, to the number of a thousand people." No Divine intervention rewarded this devoted faith, nor apparently did the Jews expect it, for they had said, "Let us die all in our innocency; heaven and earth shall testify for us that ye put us to death wrongfully." This is, after all, a higher note than that of Chronicles: obedience may not bring invariable reward; nevertheless the faithful will not swerve from their loyalty. But the priestly leaders of the people looked with no favorable eye upon this offering up of human hecatombs in honor of the sanctity of the Sabbath. They were not prepared to die passively; and, as representatives of Jehovah and of the nation for the time being, they decreed that henceforth they would fight against those who attacked them, even on the Sabbath Day. Warfare on these more secular principles was crowned with that visible success which the chronicler regarded as the manifest sign of Divine approval; and a dynasty of royal priests filled the throne and led the armies of Israel, and assured and strengthened their authority by intrigues and alliances with every heathen sovereign within their reach.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 20:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-chronicles-20.html.

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