1 Kings Chapter Twenty-two
1 Kings 22
Jehoshaphat makes a league with Ahab. (1-14) Micaiah predicts the death of Ahab. (15-28) Death of Ahab. (29-40) Jehoshaphat's good reign over Judah. (41-50) Ahaziah's evil reign over Israel. (51-53)
Commentary on 1 Kings 22:1-14
(Read 1 Kings 22:1-14)
The same easiness of temper, which betrays some godly persons into friendship with the declared enemies of religion, renders it very dangerous to them. They will be drawn to wink at and countenance such conduct and conversation as they ought to protest against with abhorrence. Whithersoever a good man goes, he ought to take his religion with him, and not be ashamed to own it when he is with those who have no regard for it. Jehoshaphat had not left behind him, at Jerusalem, his affection and reverence for the word of the Lord, but avowed it, and endeavoured to bring it into Ahab's court. And Ahab's prophets, to please Jehoshaphat, made use of the name of Jehovah: to please Ahab, they said, Go up. But the false prophets cannot so mimic the true, but that he who has spiritual senses exercised, can discern the fallacy. One faithful prophet of the Lord was worth them all. Wordly men have in all ages been alike absurd in their views of religion. They would have the preacher fit his doctrine to the fashion of the times, and the taste of the hearers, and yet to add. Thus saith the Lord, to words that men would put into their mouths. They are ready to cry out against a man as rude and foolish, who scruples thus to try to secure his own interests, and to deceive others.
Commentary on 1 Kings 22:15-28
(Read 1 Kings 22:15-28)
The greatest kindness we can do to one that is going in a dangerous way, is, to tell him of his danger. To leave the hardened criminal without excuse, and to give a useful lesson to others, Micaiah related his vision. This matter is represented after the manner of men: we are not to imagine that God is ever put upon new counsels; or that he needs to consult with angels, or any creature, about the methods he should take; or that he is the author of sin, or the cause of any man's telling or believing a lie. Micaiah returned not the blow of Zedekiah, yet, since he boasted of the Spirit, as those commonly do that know least of the Holy Spirit's operations, the true prophet left him to be convinced of his error by the event. Those that will not have their mistakes set right in time, by the word of God, will be undeceived, when it is too late, by the judgments of God. We should be ashamed of what we call trials, were we to consider what the servants of God have endured. Yet it will be well, if freedom from trouble prove not more hurtful to us; we are more easily allured and bribed into unfaithfulness and conformity to the world, than driven to them.
Commentary on 1 Kings 22:29-40
(Read 1 Kings 22:29-40)
Ahab basely intended to betray Johoshaphat to danger, that he might secure himself. See what they get that join with wicked men. How can it be expected that he should be true to his friend, who has been false to his God! He had said in compliment to Ahab, I am as thou art, and now he was indeed taken for him. Those that associate with evil-doers, are in danger of sharing in their plagues. By Jehoshaphat's deliverance, God let him know, that though he was displeased with him, yet he had not deserted him. God is a friend that will not fail us when other friends do. Let no man think to hide himself from God's judgment. God directed the arrow to hit Ahab; those cannot escape with life, whom God has doomed to death. Ahab lived long enough to see part of Micaiah's prophecy accomplished. He had time to feel himself die; with what horror must he have thought upon the wickedness he had committed!
Commentary on 1 Kings 22:41-50
(Read 1 Kings 22:41-50)
Jehoshaphat's reign appears to have been one of the best, both as to piety and prosperity. He pleased God, and God blessed him.
Commentary on 1 Kings 22:51-53
(Read 1 Kings 22:51-53)
Ahaziah's reign was very short, not two years; some sinners God makes quick work with. A very bad character is given of him; he listened not to instruction, took no warning, but followed the example of his wicked father, and the counsel of his more wicked mother, Jezebel, who was still living. Miserable are the children who not only derive a sinful nature from their parents, but are taught by them to increase it; and most unhappy parents are they, that help to damn their children's souls. Hardened sinners rush forward, unawed and unmoved, in the ways from which others before them have been driven into everlasting misery.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 1 Kings》
1 Kings 22
 And it came to pass in the third year, that Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel.
Came down, … — It is strange, that so good a man would be so closely connected with a king revolted from the worship of God! But he appears to have been of too easy a temper, which betrayed him to many inconveniencies.
 And the king of Israel said unto his servants, Know ye that Ramoth in Gilead is ours, and we be still, and take it not out of the hand of the king of Syria?
Is ours — Belongeth to us by right. both by God's donation, and by our last agreement with Ben-hadad, chap. 20:34, which yet he refuseth to deliver up.
 And Jehoshaphat said unto the king of Israel, Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the LORD to day.
Enquire — A good man, wherever he goes, will take God along with him, will acknowledge him in all his ways, and look to him for success. And wherever he goes, he ought to take his religion along with him: and not be ashamed to own it, even among those who have no kindness for it.
 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king.
The prophets — Doubtless his own false prophets, or the priests of the groves; who yet gave in their answer in the name of Jehovah; either, in compliance with Jehoshaphat, or by Ahab's direction, that Jehoshaphat might be deceived by them, into a good opinion of the war.
 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.
One man — In this place, for whom I can speedily send: for there were also other prophets elsewhere in the kingdom, but these were not at hand.
Micaiah — Not one of the twelve prophets, who lived about a hundred and fifty years after this time, but another of that name.
Let not, … — Let us neither hate his person, nor despise his message; but first hear it, and then do as we see cause.
 Then the king of Israel called an officer, and said, Hasten hither Micaiah the son of Imlah.
Micaiah — It seems, he had imprisoned him; for verse 26, he bids the officer carry him back, namely to the place where he was before. Probably this was he that had reproved him, for letting Ben-hadad go: And for that, had lain in prison three years. But this did not make him less confident, or less faithful in delivering his message.
 And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak.
Said — What answer God shall put in to my mouth. Bravely resolved! And as became one who had an eye to a greater king than either of these.
 So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king.
Go — Using the very words of the false prophets, in way of derision. Micaiah's meaning is plainly this, because thou dost not seek to know the truth, but only to please thyself, go to the battle, as all thy prophets advise thee, and try the truth of their prediction by thy own experience.
 And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.
I saw — In the spirit, or in a vision.
The hills — Upon the mountains of Gilead, nigh Ramoth, where they lay encamped by Ahab's order.
As sheep — As people who have lost their king.
Return — Discharged from the war: which was fulfilled, verse 26.
 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?
Evil — Nay, but what evil was it, to tell him, what would be the event, if he proceeded in his expedition, while it was in his own power, whether he would proceed, or no? The greatest kindness we can do to one that is walking in a dangerous way, is to tell him of his danger.
 And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
He said — I will give thee a distinct and true account of the whole matter, in God's name and presence.
I saw — By the eyes of my mind: for he could not see the Lord with bodily eyes.
The Host — The angels, both good and bad, the one possibly on his right, the other on his left hand. Nor is it strange that the devils are called the host of heaven; if you consider, first, that their original seat was in heaven. Secondly, that the name of heaven is often given to all that part of the world which is above the earth, and among the rest, to the air, and where the devil's residence and dominion lies, Ephesians 2:2, and that both Michael and his angels, and the Dragon and his angels, are said to be, and to wage war in heaven, Revelation 12:7, either the air, or the church.
 And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
Who shall — This is not to be grossly understood, as if God were at a loss to find out an expedient to accomplish his own will; but only to bring down divine things to our shallow capacities, and to express the various means which God hath to execute his own designs.
 And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him.
A spirit — An evil spirit came, and presented himself before the throne.
 And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.
He said — I will inspire a lie into the minds and mouths of his prophets.
Thou shalt — I will give them up into thy hands, and leave them to their own ignorance and wickedness.
Go — This is not a command, but only a permission.
 But Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near, and smote Micaiah on the cheek, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee?
Zedekiah — The chief of the false prophets, who was much in the king's favour.
Which way — In what manner went it? Forasmuch as I and my brethren have consulted the Lord, and have the same spirit which thou pretendest to have.
 And Micaiah said, Behold, thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself.
Hide thyself — Probably he went with Ahab to the battle, after which he was glad to shelter himself where he could.
 And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.
Bread, … — With a very course and sparing diet, whereby he may be only supported to endure his torment.
 But the king of Syria commanded his thirty and two captains that had rule over his chariots, saying, Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel.
Save only — This he ordered, truly supposing this to be the best way to put an end to the war: and by the providence of God, which disposeth the hearts of kings as he pleaseth; and inclined them to this course, that they might, though ignorantly, accomplish his counsel. Perhaps Ben-hadad only designed to have taken him prisoner, that he might now give him as honourable a treatment, as he had formerly received from him.
 And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness: wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot, Turn thine hand, and carry me out of the host; for I am wounded.
The joints — Where the several parts of his armour were joined together. The only place about him where this arrow of death could find entrance. No armour is proof against the darts of divine vengeance. Case the criminal in steel, and it is all one: he that made him, can make his sword approach him. And that which to us seems altogether casual, comes by the determinate counsel of God.
 So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; and they buried the king in Samaria.
Died — Finding too late the truth of Micaiah's words; and Zedekiah's horns of iron, pushing not the Syrians, but himself, into destruction.
 Now the rest of the acts of Ahab, and all that he did, and the ivory house which he made, and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?
Ivory house — Not that it was made of solid ivory, but because the other materials were covered, or inlaid with ivory.
 And Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel.
Of Ahab — Who reigned twenty two years; therefore he reigned about eighteen years with Ahab.
 And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.
High places — He took them away, but not fully; or not in the beginning of of his reign.
 And Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel.
Made peace — With Ahab first, and then with his son. This is noted as a blemish in his government, 2 Chronicles 19:2, and proved of most mischievous consequence to his posterity.
 There was then no king in Edom: a deputy was king.
A deputy — Sent, and set over them by the kings of Judah, from the time of David, until the days of Jehoram, 2 Chronicles 21:8.
 Then said Ahaziah the son of Ahab unto Jehoshaphat, Let my servants go with thy servants in the ships. But Jehoshaphat would not.
Would not — He did join with Ahaziah before this time, and before the ships were broken: for the breaking of the ships mentioned here, is noted to be the effect of his sin, in joining with Ahaziah, 2 Chronicles 20:37. And Jehoshaphat being warned and chastised by God for this sin, would not be persuaded to repeat it.
 Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned two years over Israel.
Ahaziah, … — Ahaziah was made king by his father, and reigned in conjunction with him a year or two before Ahab's death, and as long after it; even as Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat was made king by his father in his life-time, which possibly was done in compliance with Ahab's desire upon marriage of his daughter to Jehoshaphat's son; and it may be Ahab, to induce him to do so, give him an example of it, and made his son his partner in the kingdom.
 And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin:
In the way — Which seems added, to shew, how little the example of parents, or ancestors, is to be valued where it is opposed to the will and word of God.
 For he served Baal, and worshipped him, and provoked to anger the LORD God of Israel, according to all that his father had done.
His father, … — Most unhappy parents, that thus help to damn their own children's souls!
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 1 Kings》
22 Chapter 22
Jehoshaphat the King of Judah.
Character of Jehoshaphat
In Ahab we have an instance of a wicked man partially reclaimed, frequently arrested, but yet finally hardened in his iniquity. In Jehoshaphat, again, we have a still more affecting example. We see how a man, upright before God, and sincere in serving Him, may be betrayed into weak compliances; and how dangerous and melancholy the consequences of these compliances may be. The general uprightness of Jehoshaphat, his sincerity in serving God, is expressly acknowledged and commended by the prophet in the very act of condemning his sin (1 Kings 22:3). The 17th chapter of Second Chronicles gives an account of his piety and zeal at the beginning of his reign, and before the event to which the prophet refers; and the 19th and 20th chapters prove the continuance of these excellent dispositions, even after that most sad and untoward occurrence. Such a prince, we might naturally imagine, opposed to all corruption in the worship of God, would be especially studious to keep himself and his people separate from the heathenism and idolatry of the adjoining kingdom of Israel. He could have no sympathy with the spirit which animated that kingdom under the auspices of the infamous Jezebel--no toleration for the abuses which prevailed after she had secured the open establishment of the very worst form of paganism. Yet, strange to tell, the besetting sin of this good man was a tendency to connect himself with idolaters. The single fault charged against this godly prince is his frequent alliance with his ungodly neighbours. Thus, in the first place, Jehoshaphat consented to a treaty of marriage, probably at the beginning of his reign (2 Chronicles 17:1). He “joined affinity with Ahab” by marrying his son to Ahab’s daughter (2 Kings 8:18). This was the first overture towards an alliance. Then, secondly, Jehoshaphat twice joined in a league of war with the King of Israel; first, in the expedition against Syria which we have been considering; and again, shortly after an attack upon the Moabites (2 Kings 3:7). Lastly, in the third place, Jehoshaphat consented, though reluctantly, in the close of his reign, to a commercial alliance of his people with the ten tribes. As to the sin itself with which Jehoshaphat is charged, and the probable reasons or motives of its commission,--we cannot suppose that, in forming an alliance with the ungodly, Jehoshaphat was actuated by fondness for the crime, or by complacency in the criminal. We must seek an explanation of his conduct rather in mistaken views of policy than in any considerable indifference to the honour of God, or any leaning to the defections of apostasy and idolatry. For this end, let us consider the relative situation of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and the feelings which their respective kings, with their subjects, mutually cherished towards one another. The first effect of Jeroboam’s revolt with the ten tribes from the house of David, was a bitter and irreconcilable hostility between the two rival kingdoms of the ten, and of the two tribes. And, as if to widen and perpetuate the breach, each party in turn had recourse to the expedient of calling in foreign aid against the other. At the instigation probably of Jeroboam, Shishak, King of Egypt, who had formerly been his patron and protector, invaded Judah. And again, by way of retaliation, the King of Judah soon after invited the Syrians to ravage the territory of the hostile kingdom of Israel (2 Chronicles 16:1-14.). In course of time, however, when a generation or two passed away, something like a change, or a tendency to approximation, began to appear. The feelings of hostility had in some degree subsided, the memory of former union had revived, and the idea might again not unnaturally suggest itself to a wise and patriotic statesman, of consolidating once more into a powerful empire communities which, although recently estranged, had yet a common origin, a common history, a common name, and, till lately, a common faith,--whose old recollections and associations were all in common. The manifest folly, too, of exposing themselves, by intestine division, to foreign invasion, and even employing foreigners against each other, might prompt the desire of bringing the kingdoms to act harmoniously together, whether in peace or in war. Such might very reasonably be the views of an able, enlightened, and conscientious sovereign, pursuing simply, in a sense, the good of his country; and such, probably, were the views of Jehoshaphat. His favourite aim and design seems to have been, to conciliate the king and people of Israel; at least, he was always ready to listen to any proposals of conciliation. Nay, we may believe that this good man proposed, by the course which he adopted, to leaven them with the spirit of a better faith, and ultimately bring them back again to the legitimate dominion of the house of David, and the pure worship of the God of their fathers. If so, his object was certainly not unlawful; but in the pursuit of it, he was tempted to an unlawful compromise of principle. In his anxiety to pacify, to conciliate, and to reclaim, he was tempted to go a little too far,--even to the sacrificing of his own high integrity, and the apparent countenancing of other men’s iniquities. And is not this the very sin of many good and serious Christians, who manifest to the world, its follies and its vices, a certain mild and tolerant spirit, and are disposed to treat the men of the world with a sort of easy and indulgent complacency; justifying or excusing such concessions to themselves by the fond persuasion, that they are but seeking, or at least that they are promoting, the world’s reformation? No doubt, it is your duty to conciliate all men, if you can; but there is such a thing as conciliating, and conciliating, and conciliating, till you conciliate away all the distinctive characteristics of your faith.
1. Thus, as to the first point, Jehoshaphat, when he consented to an alliance with the King of Israel, no doubt contemplated the possibility of doing him some good. Such was his hope. How in point of fact was it realised? He has descended from his footing of unquestioned and uncompromised integrity, and involved himself irretrievably in the very course he should be rebuking. And so it must ever be. The very first step a good man takes from the eminence on which he stands apart, as the friend of God and the unflinching enemy of all ungodliness in the world, he compromises his authority, his influence, his right and power of bold remonstrance and unsparing testimony against the corrupt lusts and the angry passions of men. He gives up the point of principle, and as to any resistance that he may make in details, men see not what there is left to fight for. Is not this the natural, the necessary result of such a conciliatory course? If you condescend to flatter men in their vanities, will they listen to you when you gravely reprehend their sins? No; they will laugh you to scorn. If you countenance them in the beginning of their excess, will they patiently bear your authoritative denunciation of its end? No; they will contemptuously reject it as a fond folly, or indignantly resent it as an insult. If you go with them one mile, may they not almost expect you to go two?--at least, you have no right to take it very much amiss if they go the two miles themselves.
2. But, in the second place, Jehoshaphat not only failed to arrest Ahab in his sinful course--he was himself involved in its sinfulness. Instead of reclaiming this wicked prince, he was himself betrayed into a participation in his wickedness he joined him in his unholy expedition. And be sure, we say to all professing Christians, that you too, if you try thus artfully to gain the advantage over the world, will find the world too much for you. For Satan, the god of this world, is far more than a match for you in this game of craft, and compromise, and conciliation. Beware how you step out of your own proper sphere, as a separate and peculiar people. Then go not along with them at all--no, not a single step: for a single step implies tampering, in so far, with your religious and conscientious scruples; and when these are once weakly or wilfully compromised, Satan’s battle is gained. The rest is all a question of time and of degree. Stand fast, then, in your liberty. “All things are lawful unto you, but all things are not expedient.” Be not yourselves “brought under the power of any”; and consider what may “edify” the Church and glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23), Stand fast in your integrity.
3. For, thirdly, see what hazard Jehoshaphat ran. Not only did he sin with Ahab, but he was on the point of perishing with him in his sin. The King of Judah was saved himself, as by fire; but his ally, his confederate, was lost. And had he no hand, had he no concern, in the loss? Had he honestly remonstrated with him? Had he fearlessly protested against him, and sharply rebuked and withstood him? Oh! such wounds would have been kind and precious. But he had been too merciful; he had been pitiful, falsely pitiful,--what a thought is this, that, in making flattering advances to sinners, and dealing smoothly with their sins, you not only endanger your own peace, but you accelerate and promote their ruin! You may save yourselves by tardy yet, timely repentance; you may extricate yourselves ere it be too late;--but can you save, can you extricate those whom your example has encouraged, or your presence has authorised? (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
The King of Israel.--
The character of Ahab
I. The king’s wilful purpose (verses 1-6). Ahab’s purpose is announced in the beginning of the chapter. We find him, after three years of peace, preparing to attack the Syrians. The Syrian king, whom Ahab had treated with such ill-timed lenity, and with whom he had made so sinful a compromise, has, as might have been anticipated, failed to fulfil the: stipulated terms of ransom, and to restore the cities of Israel. Ahab, provoked at his own simplicity in having suffered so favourable an opportunity to slip, through his fond trust in the honour of a perfidious prince, and stung by the recollection of the prophet’s rebuke, conceives the design of retrieving his error, and compelling the fulfilment of the treaty, on the faith of which he had been weakly persuaded to liberate the enemy whom God had doomed. In this Ahab acts under the impulse of resentment and ambition. He burns with the desire of avenging a personal wrong and insult, rather than of fulfilling the decree of God. Had he consulted the will of God, he must have seen and felt that it was now too late for him to take the step proposed. He had let the time go past. When God gave him victory, and assured him of power over his enemy, then he should have used his opportunity. This he had failed to do; and for his failure he had been reproved by God, and warned by the prophet that his people and his life were forfeited. Certainly Ahab should have been the very last person to think of rousing and provoking the very foe who, by the Divine sentence and by his own compromise, had gained so sad and signal an advantage over him. But instead of following so wise a course, Ahab blindly rushes into the opposite extreme from his former fault; and because before he has been blamed for not going far enough, with God on his side, he is provoked to go too far now, though God has declared against him. He is not without his reasons, and they are very plausible reasons, to justify the step proposed.
1. In the first place, it is in itself an act of patriotism and of piety; at least it looks very like it, and may easily be so represented.
2. Secondly, it has received the countenance of a friend (verse 4). And that friend is not a wicked man, but one fearing God, and acknowledged by God as righteous.
3. And, thirdly, it has obtained the sanction of four hundred prophets (verse 6). And these are not prophets of Baal. Looking, then, at the act itself as an act of patriotic and pious zeal, encouraged by the consent of his friend and the concurrence of the prophets, Ahab, we may think, might well be misled. And we might pity and excuse him too, as one misled, did we not see him so willing to be so. Is he not all the while deceiving himself, and that too almost wilfully and consciously? O beware, ye pilgrims in an evil world, ye soldiers in an arduous fight, beware of your own rash wilfulness, of the weakness of compliant friends, and of the flattering counsels of evil men and seducers, who in the last times--in the last and critical stage of individual experience, as well as of the world’s history--are sure to wax worse and worse! There is no design, no device, no desire of your hearts, which you may not find some specious arguments to justify, some friends to countenance, ay, and some prophets, too, to sanction.
II. The Lord’s gracious opposition (verses 7-23). The King of Israel is satisfied with the oracular answer of the prophets. Not so, however, the King of Judah. He suspects something wrong, missing probably among the four hundred some one of whom he has heard. This Micaiah is supposed to be the prophet who reproved Ahab formerly, on the occasion of his compromise with the Syrian king; and it was probably his boldness on that occasion that caused him to be imprisoned. And is not this the spirit in which good advice is too often asked, and the word of God consulted,--when it is too late,--when a man’s mind is already all but made up? You go when your conscience will not otherwise let you alone, or when the remonstrances of pious friends trouble you; you go to some man of God, to God Himself, by prayer and the searching of His word:--for what? what is it that you want?--light for duty, however self-denying? or light to justify your doubtful course? He stands before the princes, undaunted by their royal state. First of all, he rebukes the prejudice of Ahab, by seeming to flatter it (verse 15). The irony conveys a cutting reproof, and a merited one; and with this the holy prophet might have left the prince to believe his own and his flatterers’ lie. But the mercy of God and the sin of Ahab are to be yet more signally brought out. Even to the last, in judgment God remembers mercy. The very scene of judgment which the prophet discloses does not imply any fixed and irrevocable design of wrath against Ahab;--with such a design, indeed, the disclosure of the scene would be incompatible and inconsistent. The sentence of final infatuation does not come without previous intimation. However you may be deceived, or maybe deceiving yourselves, is there not a voice of truth, or a prophetic warning, which you feel might keep you right--if you wore but willing to be kept right?
III. The issue of the contest (verses 29-38). And here, in the first place, let the expedient by which Ahab consults his own safety be observed. For he does not feel entirely comfortable and secure; he cannot rid himself of the uneasy apprehension which the prophet’s word has suggested. There is danger. Ahab, knowing the hazard, cunningly proposes to resign the post of honour to his ally: “And the King of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes. And the King of Israel disguised himself, and went into the battle” (verse 30). And what are we to expect but that, false to his God, a man will be false to his friend also. Let none trust the fidelity of him who is not faithful to his best, his kindest, his most generous benefactor,--his Saviour, his God. Consult your own conscience.
1. Beware of the beginning of Ahab’s evil course-his fatal compromise with the enemy of his peace. See that you enter into no terms with any sin, and that you be not hardened through its deceitfulness. When God in Christ gives you the victory, delivering you from condemnation by His free grace, and upholding you by His free Spirit; when, justified and accepted in the Beloved, you see every sin of yours prostrate beneath your feet, stripped of all its power to slay or to enslave you--be sure that you make thorough work in following out the advantage you have gained--that you listen to no plausible proposals of concession--that you suffer no iniquity to escape--that you mortify every lust.
2. Beware of provoking a slumbering foe. If there be any enemy of your peace to whom, by former compliances or concessions, you have given an advantage over you, beware of invading his territories again. Be on your guard against the very first beginnings of evil--of any evil especially that you have ever, in all your past lives, tolerated, or flattered or fondled in your bosoms, when you should have been nailing it, without pity, to your Saviour’s cross.
3. Beware of the deceitfulness of sin. The wiles of the devil are not unknown to you. In a doubtful case, where you are hesitating, it is easy for him to insinuate and suggest reasons enough to make the worse appear the better cause. Generally you may detect his sophistry by its complex character. Truth is simple; the word of God is plain.
4. Beware of being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Beware of a judicial hardening of your hearts, or of your being given over to believe a lie. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
Ramoth in Gilead is ours, and we be still, and take it not out of the hand of the King of Syria?
I. What is ours and not ours. Every Christian man has large tracts of unannexed territory unattained possibilities, unenjoyed blessings, things that are his and yet not his. How much more of God you and I have a right to than we have the possession of! The ocean is ours, but only the little pailful that we carry away home to our own houses is of use to us.
1. How much inward peace is ours? It is meant that there should never pass across a Christian’s soul more than a ripple of agitation, which may indeed ruffle and curl the surface, but deep down there should be the tranquillity of the fathomless ocean, unbroken by any tempests and yet not stagnant because there is a vital current that runs through it, and every drop is being drawn upward to the surface and the sunlight. There may be a peace in our hearts deep as our lives; a tranquillity which may be superficially disturbed, but is never thoroughly, and down to the depths, broken.
2. What “heights”--for Ramoth means “high places”--what heights of consecration there are which are ours according to the Divine purpose and according to the fulness of God’s gift! It is meant, and it is possible, and it is within the reach of every Christian soul, that he or she should live, day by day, in the continual and utter surrender of himself or herself to the will of God, and should say, “I do the little I can do, and leave the rest with Thee”; and should say again, “All is right that seems most wrong if it be His sweet will.”
3. What noble possibilities of service, what power in the world is bestowed on Christ’s people! “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth,” says He. “And He breathed on them, and said, “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” The Divine gift to the Christian community, and to the individuals that compose it--for there are no gifts given to the community but to the individuals that make it up--is of fulness, of power for all their work.
II. Our strange contentment in imperfect possession. Is not that condition of passive acquiescence in their small present attainments, and of careless indifference to the great stretch of the unattained, the characteristic of the mass of professing Christians? They have got a foothold on a new continent, and their possession of it is like the world’s knowledge of the map of Africa when we were children, which had a settlement dotted here and there along the coast, and all the broad regions of the interior undreamed of. The settlers huddle together upon the fringe of barren sand by the salt water, and never dream of pressing forward into the heart of the land. And so too many of us are content with what we have got, a little bit of God, when we might have Him all; a settlement on the fringe and edge of the land, when we might traverse the whole length of it; and behold! it is all ours.
III. The effort that is needed to make our own ours. “We be still, and take it not out of the hands of the King of Syria.” Then these things that are ours, by God’s gift, by Christ’s purchase, by the Spirit’s influence, will need our effort to secure them. And that is no contradiction, nor any paradox. God does exactly in the same way with regard to a great many of His natural gifts which He does with regard to His spiritual ones. He gives them to us, but we hold them on this tenure, that we put forth our best efforts to get and to keep them. His giving them does not set aside our taking. And we Christian people have an endless prospect of that sort stretching before us. Oh, if we looked at it oftener, “having respect unto the recompense of the reward,” we should find it easier to dash at any Ramoth-Gilead, and get it out of the hands of the strongest of the enemies that may bar our way to it. Let us familiarise ourselves with the thought of our present imperfection, and of our future, and of the possibilities which may become actualities even here and now; and let us not fitfully use what power we have, but make the best of what graces are ours, and enjoy and expatiate on the spiritual blessings of peace and rest which Christ has already given to us. “To him that hath shall be given.” And the surest way to lose what we have is to neglect the increasing of it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A young fellow was in the habit of visiting the house of a rather wealthy lady. He never got beyond the drawing-room, where he was received and entertained. The drawing-room looked into the vinery, but the door between them was always closed, and evidently locked. In after days he was adopted into the family, and became heir to the house and estates. The friend who told me the story said to him, when hearing of his adoption: “And what was the first thing you did when you entered the house as heir?” He replied: “I opened the door into the vinery, and I went and cut down a cluster of grapes.” When I heard the story I could not but think of our inheritance in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have a right to go to the vineyard and to eat of the King’s grapes. How few of us exercise our privileges! How poor we are, when we might be passing rich! We live as though we were strangers and sojourners instead of sons. We move about our estates like visitors; we do not open the doors and the gates, and stride about like the lord and heir. (Hartley Aspen.)
A Scotch laird, who shortly after arriving at his majority set out for the Continent, having ascended a certain mountain in the south of Italy, famous for the magnificent prospect which is enjoyed from the summit, struck with its beauty, inquired of the guide who accompanied him if there was anything in Europe equal to what he now beheld. “I have heard,” replied the guide, “that this prospect is excelled by only one” “And where is that one?” eagerly demanded the traveller. “In the kingdom of Scotland,” said the guide. “Indeed,” said the view-hunter, “in what part?” From the top of a hill named----,“was the reply. “Why,” exclaimed the traveller, “that is on my own estate; and I have never been there.”
Niagara has for ages been flowing, a mighty force in the world. Yet it is only just being utilised as a motive power. And by tunnelling off but a portion, they have such a mighty power that it is almost impossible to estimate it. Electricity is to be supplied to cities, some far distant, from its motive power, and mills and works for miles are to be worked by it. So in Christ is untold wealth, power, love, waiting to be appropriated. Let us not pass by these gifts through our unbelief. (The Christian World.)
Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the Lord to-day.
Appeal to the prophets in time of crisis
It has been noted, that in ancient Grecian national affairs, when all theories that are called practical break down, it is the once-despised and suspected philosophers that come into strange public importance. If an important embassy to a hostile nation is to be sent, it is to Xenocrates that they entrust it, though the man was never seen in the assembly. If Antigonus wants a safe officer to hold the Accorrinthus, he chooses Perseus the Stoic. When Alexander in his despair at the murder of Clitus sits in dust and ashes, and will not eat or drink, they send two philosophers to bring him to reason. The men whose lives are devoted to thought are now regarded as peace-makers and politicians above the ordinary level.
There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah.
Loyalty to truth
In all the course of my acquaintance with Sir Robert Peel, I never knew a man in whose truth and justice I had a more lively confidence. In the whole course of my communication with him, I never knew an instance in which he did not show the strongest attachment to truth, and I never saw, in the whole course of my life, the smallest reason for suspecting that he stated anything which he did not firmly believe to be the fact. (The Duke of Wellington.)
Micaiah prophesying evil
I. You are in danger of committing Ahab’s folly, in the choice of your acquaintances and friends. You find some ready to give you countenance, by their example and conversation, in all the evil which your heart desires; willing, whatever be your besetting sin, to help you in excusing it to your conscience; forward, however unholy be your enterprise, to say with the false prophets of Samaria, “Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king” (Verse 6) There are others who warn you of evil, who recommend you to desist from sinful courses, whose very example is a reproof to you, though their tongue be silent; Now which sort of friends do you most highly esteem?
II. A lively warning against the unwise conduct of many persons in the choice of their religion. But be ye well assured, that one kind of religion only can be right; and that this must be one which prophesieth evil concerning you, which tells you that you are lost if you sin, and which bids you seek for heaven, not by show of piety, not by dissension one with another, not by resorting to images, and saints, and masses; but by secret wrestling with your own desires, by fervent spiritual prayer, and by painful denial of yourselves, in the faith and by the strength of Jesus Christ your Saviour.
III. To profess the right faith is one thing; to apply it rightly in our practice is another. It may be you fall not into the error of running after false systems of faith, and yet regard not as you ought to do the prophets of the truth. And into this error you may fall, either in regard to the public preaching, or to the private exhortations, of the ministers of religion. “He doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil,” is a reflection with which you often probably return home from church. (C. Girdlestone, M. A.)
Archbishop Abbot was visited by one of James I.’s emissaries, who came to
persuade him to do evil to please the court, he stood boldly in defiance of the
royal request, and asked: “Shall I, to please King James, and to shelter and
satisfy his vile favourites, shall I send my soul to hell? No, I will not do
it!” So he stood alone in that unholy court, and sought to be true to the King
of kings. The price for becoming traitor to God is too great for us to afford (H.
I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.--
The hated prophet of evil
I. A guilty conscience makes men fear the truth. And yet, how senseless and impolitic is this! Whatever the reality of things may be, is it not better that we should know it, rather than live in a fool’s paradise of flattering self-delusions, crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace? It was a wise and noble spirit that said, “I will seek after the truth, by which no man was ever injured.” We have mastered one of the grandest lessons of life when we have learnt to welcome the truth from whatever quarter it may come.
II. Fear of truth may often develop into personal hate of him who is the messenger and minister of It. “I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” There is nothing strange in this. A very subtle connection exists between the conditions of mind here indicated. Fear leads to hate, and is itself a form of hate. The feeling of aversion is readily transferred from the thing dreaded to him who is the means of bringing it upon us;.and when a man hates the light, he is not likely to have much love for the human medium through whom it shines.
III. Divine laws and purposes are surely accomplished, in spite of human fear and hate. The “lying spirit” in the pretended prophets may utter its persuasive flatteries (verse 22); Zedekiah may add violence to falsity (verse 24); Micaiah may be imprisoned and fed with “the bread and water of affliction” (verse27),--but the fatal decree has gone forth, and must be fulfilled. The king shall return no more from Ramoth-Gilead. (J. Waite, B. A.)
Hostility to truth lies in the will
Many an objector to Christianity in our day, if he said out what he really thinks, would say, “I disbelieve Christianity, because it does not prophecy good concerning me, but evil; it makes such serious demands, it sets up so high a standard, it implies that so much I say and do is a great mistake that I must away with it. I cannot do and be what it enjoins without doing violence to my inclinations, to my fixed habits of life and thought.” This, before his conversion, was the case with the great Augustine. Augustine tells us in his Confessions how completely he was enchained by his passions, and how, after lie had become intellectually satisfied of the truth of the creed of the Christian Church, he was held back from conversion by the fear that he would have to give up so much to which he was attached. In the end, we know, through God’s grace he broke his chains--those chains which held poor Ahab captive. In such cases lasting self-deceit is only too easy. Men treat what is only a warp of the will as if it were a difficulty of the understanding, while the real agent--ought I not to say the real culprit?--is almost always the will. The will sees religion advancing to claim the allegiance of the will, it sees that to admit this claim will oblige it to forego much, and to do much that is unwelcome to flesh and blood, and so it makes an effort to clog or to hinder the direct action of the understanding. Its public language is, “I cannot accept religion because it makes this or that assertion, which to my mind is open to historical or philosophical or moral objections of a decisive character”; but, if it saw deeper into itself, it would say, “I dislike this creed, for it doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil, while I continue to live as I do.” (Canon Liddon.)
An unpleasant view blocked up
“It was an old joke against Lord Islay, who formerly lived at Hounslow, that ordering his gardener to cut an avenue to open a view, the landscape disclosed a gibbet with a thief on it; and several members of the Campbell family having died with their shoes on, the prospect awoke such ominous and unpleasant reminiscences that Lord Islay instantly ordered the avenue to be closed up again with a clump of thick Scotch firs.” The amusing incident has a moral side of it. Certain doctrines of the Gospel bear very heavily upon proud human nature, and therefore many are determined to block up the view which they open up. Curiosity impelled them to hear, but perceiving that the truth condemns them they wish to hear no more. The preacher’s teaching would be all very well, but it brings sin to remembrance and reveals the hell which will follow it, and therefore the self-convicted hearer cannot abide it. It is, however, no joke to block up our view of eternity. The gibbet is there even if the sinner refuses to see it. (Sword and Trowel.)
Preachers for the times
The class of sermons which, according to Mr. Gladstone, is most needed, is the class one of which so offended Lord Melbourne tong ago. He was one day seen coming from a church in the country in a great fume. Meeting a friend, he exclaimed, “It is too bad! I have always been a supporter of the Church, and I have always upheld the clergy. But it is really too bad to have to listen to a sermon like that we have had this morning. Why, the preacher actually insisted upon applying religion to a man’s private life!” (Quiver.)
Truth most required
The truth which a man or a generation requires most is the truth which he or they like least; and the true Christian teacher’s adaptation of his message will consist quite as much in opposing the desires and contradicting the lies, as in seeking to meet the felt wants of the world. Nauseous medicines or sharp lancets are adapted to the sick man quite as truly as pleasant food and soothing ointment. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Aim in preaching
A sailor just off to a whaling expedition asked where he could hear a good sermon. On his return from the church his friend asked him, “How did you like the sermon?” “Not much, it was like a ship leaving for the whale fishing; everything shipshape; anchors, cordage, sails, and provisions all right, but there were no harpoons on board.”
Dislike to the preacher
One excuse a man makes for not heeding the message is, “I did not like the man himself; I did not like the minister; I did not like the man who blew the trumpet, I had a personal dislike to him, and so I did not take any notice of what the trumpet said.” Verily, God will say to thee at the last, “Thou fool, what hadst thou to do with that man; to his own master he stands or falls; thy business was with thyself.” What would you think of a man? A man has fallen overboard from a ship, and when he is drowning some sailor throws him a rope, and there it is. “Well,” he says, “in the first place. I do not like that rope; I do not think the rope was made at the best manufactory; there is some tar on it, too; I do not like it; and in the next place, I do not like that sailor that threw the rope over; I do not like the look of him at all,” and then comes a gurgle and a groan, and down he is at the bottom of the sea; and when he was drowned, they said that it served him right. On his own head be his blood. And so shall it be with you at the last. You are so busy with criticising the minister and his style, and his doctrine, that your own soul perishes. Remember you may get into hell by criticism, but you will never criticise your soul out of it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth.
Prophets of smooth speech
I. A certain fear of God is made to serve the selfish ends of worldly men. Here is a wicked king, a pervert from the true faith, a patron of idolatry, a man whose actions were only evil continually, a man buckling on his armour for an unnecessary war, yet a man who will not move until he gets a sign that the gods will take his part. Ahab is a religious man, although a man of sin--a man who has his priests and prophets, as well as his warriors, and who in doing wrong likes to fortify himself by the assurance that the heavens are on his side. “Shall I go against Ramoth-Gilead to battle, or shall I forbear” said the king. In form that was an inquiry; in reality it was an attempt to blend religion with worldly designs, that thus he might the better compass their fulfilment. There is much of this incongruous mixture in the conduct of ungodly men among us now. There are few persons so worldly but that they have a vein of the religious running through them; and generally they are shrewd enough to somehow turn this element to their own advantage. Many persons going to church on Sunday is done to keep their conscience quiet through the week of questionable conduct. Religion is to some a refuge from uncomfortable thoughts, and as much a means of keeping a man in face with himself as with his neighbours. It is oftentimes a valuable auxiliary to a worldling’s temporal progress, winning him the good opinion of his fellows as well as furnishing a basis of self-confidence.
II. The wide prevalence of the demand for smooth-speaking prophets. Ahab said to his assembled seers, “Shall I go, or shall I forbear?” There is always a demand for prophets who tell us what we like. There is a good deal of satisfaction to the man who all the week long is driving doubtful bargains, indulging in sharp practices, and living by the world’s smart maxims rather than the principles of Scripture--it is most gratifying to such a person when he comes to church to find a man in the pulpit who dwells only on the brighter side of human conduct, who seldom mentions people’s sins, who is too polite to speak of hell, and who in general seems in favour of a “downgrade” in morals as well as in theology. And this demand is always followed by an adequate supply. If the pew clamours for smooth-tongued prophets it will not have to wait many Sundays before one mounts the pulpit. The Christian Church has never been without such men. As a rule, they abound.
III. However much smooth-speaking may abound, we can never get away entirely from the intermingled voice of truth. Micaiah was not at first summoned into the royal presence. No; Ahab knew he had a rasping voice and an awkward honesty about him which would ill harmonise with the general concurrence he expected. But somehow Micaiah was fated to appear. This world of ours has never lacked true prophets, as it has never wanted false ones. Even in the most unfriendly times there have been more of them than the prophets themselves have thought. And, somehow, as in this case, bad men are obliged to hear the prophet of the Lord sometimes. The jarring note will break in upon the smooth current of man-pleasing doctrine. Despite men’s evasions, the rousing voice makes itself heard above the sibilations of your religious parasites end sycophants; the pure light flashes convincingly into the dark places of the corrupt heart; and the word of the Lord moves right royally over men’s cowering souls and crooked lives. In the providence of God it is always ordered that the truth shall speak to evil men, “whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.” If it speaks but seldom it makes up for it by compensating emphasis. (J. J. Ingram.)
Enmity to truth
I. A man may deliberately set himself against god. This may appear an improbable thing, as there must be an apprehension that the only clear issue to such conduct is the defeat of the man, and the triumph of God.
II. A man may turn the faithfulness of God into a personal. Grievance. This evidently Ahab did; and also the men of Christ’s day, who, resenting the plainness of His speech, became His bitter adversaries. To be reproved when wrong is meditated or pursued should be regarded as an advantage. Warning is an indication of interest in one’s well-being when uttered by a friend, and ought never to be thought of other than as a kindness.
III. A may come to regard what is truth as evil instead of its being good. A man must have had his way for a long time before such a verdict may be announced; but selfishness is not long indulged before he is upon this track.
IV. A man may never be taught by experience, but ever rush on to destruction, well knowing what is before him. It was so with Ahab. No amount of teaching or experience--and his life had not been without instruction--sufficed to turn him from his set purpose and awaken him to the danger in which by his conduct he was placed. (Homiletic Magazine.)
John Wesley tells us in his famous Journal that when he was about twenty-two, before he knew by joyous experience the salvation of God, he read Thomas Kempis’ Christian Pattern, and he began “to see that true religion was seated in the heart, and that God’s law extended to all our thoughts, as well as words and actions.” He says with brave frankness, “I was, however, very angry with Kempis for being so strict!” This is an illuminating sentence. The sense of guilt recoils in anger from that which exposes our sin.
I saw the Lord sitting on His throne.
Council in heaven
We read elsewhere of “war in heaven.” The text suggests a different subject, apparently connected with it, namely, “council in heaven.” Micaiah describes what he saw as a vision. We are presented with one of the most imposing descriptions of the heavenly conclave which Holy Scripture contains. It is one of those rare occasions when we are permitted to learn how in the councils of heaven the things of our earth are ordered. Men are unwilling to believe a Providence; they trace out cause and effect, and this they deem sufficient. The text shows that “cause and effect” indeed are but the results of God’s decree, and it teaches us how He directs also even individual circumstances. In this way it may be a natural effect of a natural cause which shall bring a plague within a certain city or village, and yet God shall direct who shall fall by it, and who escape, The cause of death may be natural; the individual application is providential. You, then, are the subjects of Satan’s malignity, of the love of God, and of the wonder and ministrations of angels t It may be, that at this very hour a council is proceeding in heaven which may secure blessings of the highest order for you or for our land. Not impossible but that our arch-enemy too yet presents himself in that blessed assembly, and pointing to the many national sins of our country, or to our individual transgressions, may be prompt with a slander, followed by the suggestion, “I will go and deceive them yet more, and so I will destroy them entirely!” St. Paul meant something when he spake of wrestling not so much “against flesh and blood” as against principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places. (G. Venables.)
A prophet’s vision and a king’s blindness
(with 1 Kings 22:8):--Now in these two utterances, spoken by Ahab on the one hand and by Micaiah on the other, you see the cause of the difference between the two men. One man has a clear vision that leads to goodness, to pure life, to holy character, and to undying courage; the other man is blinded by his sins so that his vision is darkened, and he goes from folly to folly until he ends his life in shame and ignominy, because he hates the truth and will not hear it nor heed it. Here are some very important lessons for us as Christians.
1. The duties of life will not all be pleasant. We Shall sometimes be required to do very unpleasant things; but if, like this brave prophet, we have a clear vision of the Lord on His throne, and recognise that God has the first claim to our service, then we shall be able to do unpleasant duties in a brave and cheerful spirit, because we are pleasing God.
2. We are only fitted to do Christian work in the right spirit when like Micaiah, we seek to please the Lord, having Him always before our eyes. I have noticed that when I have witnessed the falling away in service on the part of a Christian it has almost universally come from a lessening of true devotion. A man ceases to pray with regularity; he becomes absorbed in business or pleasure; sets his mind on material things, until his thought is taken away from God. He does not see the Lord, and so he becomes indifferent to earnest Christian effort.
3. The man who looks upon the Lord as his God, his Heavenly Father, his Saviour, will feel that earthly affairs are of very small moment compared to the importance of spiritual victories. He will feel that it is infinitely more important to be good than it is to be rich. The man who has looked upon the face of God in loving reverence before he goes forth to his work in the morning will not be a fit subject to delude into taking bribes, or into receiving fraudulent money either in business or in politics.
4. He who sees the Lord in daily communion finds God a present help in every time of trouble. (L A. Banks, D. D.)
Put this fellow in the prison.
Persecuting the truth-teller
One evening, at a small literary gathering, a lady, famous for her “muslin theology,” was bewailing the wickedness of the Jews in not receiving our Saviour, and ended a diatribe by expressing regret that He had not appeared in our own time. “How delighted,” said she, “we should all be to throw our doors open to Him, and listen to His Divine precepts! Don’t you think so, Mr. Carlyle?” The sturdy philosopher thus appealed to, said, in his broad Scotch, “No, madam, I don’t. I think that, had He come very fashionably dressed, with plenty of money, and preaching doctrines palatable to the higher orders, I might have had the honour of receiving from you a card of invitation, on the back of which would be written, ‘To meet our Saviour’; but if He had come uttering His sublime precepts, and denouncing the Pharisees, and associating with publicans and lower orders, as He did, you would have treated Him much as the Jews did, and would have cried out, ‘Take Him to Newgate and hang Him!’”
Do we not all know that honest friends have sometimes fallen out of favour, perhaps with ourselves, because they have persistently kept telling us what our consciences and common sense knew to be true, that if we go on that road we shall be suffocated in a bog? A man makes up his mind to a course of conduct. He has a shrewd suspicion that his honest friend will condemn, and that the condemnation will be right. What does he do, therefore? He never tells his friend, and if, by chance, that friend may say what was expected of him, he gets angry with his adviser and goes his road. I suppose we all know what it is to treat our consciences in the style in which Ahab treated Micaiah. We do not listen to them because we know what they will say before they have said it. And we call ourselves sensible people! Martin Luther once said: “It is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience.” But Ahab puts Micaiah in prison, and we shut up our consciences in a dungeon, and put a gag in their mouths, and a muffler over the gag, that we may hear them say no word, because we know what we are doing, and we are doggedly determined to do, is wrong. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A certain man drew a bow at a venture.
Providence in accidents
I. The lord’s hand is concerned in those events which have the appearance of being wholly accidental, and of happening by chance or luck. The man who drew the bow by which the King of Israel received his death, drew it, as our text says, “at a venture.” He took no aim whatever. Men talk of chance, and luck, and fate, and accident, as if there was not a God that ruled the world. And some even pretend to think that it is doing a kind of dishonour to the Lord to suppose that He interferes in the events of life, beyond, perhaps, a mere general oversight or superintendence. But what says the Scripture? What says the Lord Himself of His own doings and appointments? He tells us that His hand is everywhere. He tells us that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without Him--that when “the lot is cast into the lap,” yet “the whole disposal thereof is of Him.”
II. God is true to his own threatenings. Look back into the former verses of this chapter, and you will find King Ahab was expressly warned of God that he should fall at Ramoth-Gilead, and that he should not return at all in peace. Men may “encourage themselves in an evil matter”; they may go on still in evil courses, with a most assured persuasion that their sins shall be unpunished; but true, nevertheless, is that word of the Lord which He hath spoken--“The wages of sin is death.” “God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.”
III. That there is no fencing ourselves against the stroke of God by any efforts or devices of our own. Ahab, seeming, as he did, to hold God’s threatenings cheap, yet had some apprehensions notwithstanding. “He who made you can make His weapon to approach unto you,” and that all self-defences are in vain! There is a spiritual arrow, very strong and sharp, which may be called “the arrow of conviction,” and which consists in the bringing home a sense of guilt and danger to the sinner’s conscience. Let us consider such a case as this--a case where the arrow of conviction has come home to a man’s heart through the power of the Holy Ghost. The spiritual wound which this poor sinner has received is grievous. Blessed be God! it is not like that of Ahab, hopeless and incurable. There is “balm in Gilead,” and there is “a Physician there.” That very Lord who made the preaching of His law so sharp and piercing--who made the arrow of conviction strike so deep, can heal as well as wound. He hath provided in His gospel a cure for the transgression of His law. “To bind up the broken-hearted,” to provide a precious remedy for dying sinners, was the errand of the Son of God when He visited our world. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
A bow at a venture
I. Where all is venture men act as if all were certain. Strong probability is not certainty.
1. No parent is certain that his child shall live to need the education he gives it.
2. No working man is certain that he shall require the provision he has made for “a rainy day.”
3. No merchant is certain of reaching that “wealth with honour” for which he toils. Yet the parent, the working man, and the merchant act as reasonable and responsible agents. Still, we have no certainty as to the result of any act viewed apart from its moral element. Thus viewed, however, all is certainty.
II. Where all is certain men act as if all were venture.
1. As a man sows morally, so shall he also reap; not necessarily from his fellow-men, but from God, in the harvest field of his own soul, etc. Experience, etc.
2. The most wicked deed ever perpetrated was first a thought. The accumulative force of moral evil is a certainty. Yet men lust as if lust would never bring forth; and covet as if covetousness never issued in actual theft, etc.
3. The Gospel is a certainty alike in its promises and its threatenings.
III. Deduce some practical lessons.
1. Be not afraid to “draw a bow at a venture” for the sake of Christ.
2. Be careful of all bows at a venture which are not for Christ’s sake. (The Study.)
Venture in Christian work
There is one recent example, vouched for by Miss Pratt of the Bible School, Yokohama. During the Chino-Japanese war a trainload of soldiers was passing the village of Suzakawa, and one of them tossed a copy of the Japanese gospels into the open window of a house. Through that single book, the owner of the house and his whole family have become Christians. (T. H. Darlow.)
The joints of the harness.--
Joints of the harness
We have here suggested the strength and the weakness of our defensive spiritual armour. We do not now refer to what St. Paul meant by “the whole armour of God,” so much as to a humanly framed defensive system of rules and principles and habits which is necessary to protect us during this exposed earthly life.
I. We may arm ourselves against the world by placing restrictions upon our intercourse with its social life. If specially susceptible to worldly influences, we may wisely make it a rule to keep absolutely clear from all its pleasant things in which any temptation can lurk; or we may allow ourselves some degree of liberty, which, however, we restrict by some rule or clearly drawn line beyond which we will not go. This is good defensive armour, but it will not make us invulnerable. No formal, outward separation from the world can absolutely shut out the spirit of the world. The armour of our restrictions may keep out the world bodily, so to speak; but the very trust we place in such armour may open the way for some arrow from the bow of the archer.
II. We may arm ourselves against the worldly influences which touch us through our necessary intercourse with the world--as, for instance, in our business relations with men--by joining regularly in religious services and Christian work. In business hours our life is on the open ground, where we are exposed to every temptation. But in the sanctuary of God what can harm us? It is surely from the standpoint of the sanctuary that we get our true ideals of life’s duties and aims, and that all the weak things about us are seen. It is there that faith can see and realise Divine things most clearly, and heaven seems so near, and the things of earth so small and poor. But religious services and activities will not necessarily make us safe. The archer is subtle, and has many devices.
III. We may further defend ourselves by an armour of religious habits. There is great strength and protection in habits as distinguished from fitful, varying acts. Let us keep our armour of defence as perfect as we can. Do not undervalue it because it is dangerous to overvalue it. Let the sense of weakness make us humble and watchful. Let us remember that there are places, books, company, and habits which should be labelled “dangerous.” The wise man will not court danger, but will flea from it. (Thomas Wilde.)
So the king died.
The end of Ahab
1. Observe the madness of Ahab’s policy, and note how often it is the policy which we ourselves are tempted to pursue. We suppose that if we do not consult the Bible we may take licence to do what seems good in our own eyes, and we imagine that by ignoring the Bible we have divested it of authority. We flatter ourselves that if we do not listen to an exposition of the Divine Word we shall be judged according to the light we have, forgetting the solemn law that it is not according to the light we have that we are to be judged, but according to the light we might have if we put ourselves in right relations to the opportunities created for us by Divine providence. What is this ostrich policy, but one that ought to be condemned by our sense as well as shrunk from by our piety? Our duty under all critical circumstances is to go to the truth-teller, and to get at the reality of things at all costs. Where the truth-teller disturbs our peace and disappoints our ambition, we ought to learn that it is precisely at that point that we have to become self-rectifying. The truth-teller is only powerful in proportion as he tells the truth; officially, he is nothing; his power is simply the measure of his righteousness.
2. Is it possible that there can be found any solitary man who dare oppose such unanimous testimony and complete enthusiasm? The messenger who was sent to call Micaiah was evidently a man of considerate feeling who wished the prophet well. Seeing that the words of the prophets had all declared good unto the king with one mouth, the messenger wished that Micaiah should for once agree with the other prophets and please the king by leaving undisturbed their emphatic and unanimous counsel. Thus the voice of persuasion was brought to bear upon Micaiah, and that voice is always the most difficult to resist. Micaiah lived in God, for God, and had nothing of his own to calculate or consider. Until preachers realise this same spiritual independence, they will be attempting to accommodate themselves to the spirit of the times, and even the strongest of them may be betrayed into connivances and compromises fatal to personal integrity and to the claims of truth.
3. Now came the critical moment. Now it was to be seen whether Micaiah was to be promoted to honour, or thrust away in contempt and wrath. It is easy to read of the recurrence of such moments, but difficult to realise them in their agony. The martyrs must never be forgotten. Dark will be the day in the history of any nation when the men who shed their blood that truth might be told and honour might be vindicated, are no longer held in remembrance. In vain do we bring forth from our hidden treasure the coins of ancient times, the robes worn in high antiquity by kings and priests, the rusty armour of warriors, if there is no longer in our heart the tenderest recollection of the men who wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, that they might save the torch of truth from extinction and the standard of honour from overthrow.
4. Away the kings have gone, and instead of relying upon the word of the Lord, or taking refuge in the sanctuary of great principles, they invent little tricks for the surprise and dismay of the enemy. The King of Israel disguised himself, and Jehoshaphat made himself as the King of Israel, but all their inventions came to nothing. So will perish all the enemies of the Lord. Differences of merely accidental detail there will always be, but no honour can mark the death of those who have gone contrary to the will of heaven, and taken counsel of their own imagination. How long shall the lesson of history be wasted upon us? How long will men delude themselves with the mad infatuation that they can fight against God and prosper? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish.
The shipwreck at Ezion-geber
I. This lamentable disaster to King Jehoshaphat’s shipping. The Red Sea is a long and comparatively narrow sheet of water, running in a north-westerly direction from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. Its extreme length, from the Strait of Babel Mandeb to the Isthmus of Suez, is over 1400 miles, but at the northern end it divides into two arms somewhat like the letter Y, which enclose between them the peninsula of Mount Sinai. The left, or western arm, and the larger of the two, is that with which we are best acquainted, and is called the Gulf of Suez; the right arm runs in a north-easterly direction for upwards of 100 miles, and is known as the Gulf of Akabah. At the head of this latter gulf is the site of the ancient Ezion-geber.
II. The cause of this disaster. It was a judgment from heaven.
III. The lesson which it teaches.
1. Do not choose your associates amongst those who fear not the Lord. The ill-matched fleet was hardly launched when disaster came, and the very house of God was made an “Ezion-geber.”
2. It is always safest to keep under Christian influences. A man is rarely better than the company he keeps. Ungodliness is infectious: better strengthen what is good in you than put it in peril. Never make a friend of one who would destroy your faith; “go not in the way of evil men.” True sympathy of hearts is the golden bond of friendship.
3. The lesson of the text bears upon all business alliances. You will do well even to sacrifice a measure of financial interest and worldly prospect rather than be associated in business with a man who is out of all sympathy with you in religion. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
The peril of all mercantile enterprises apart from religious principle
I. Covetousness may lead us into forming forbidden alliances and entering upon unwarranted speculative adventures. There can be no doubt that an inordinate thirst for gold tempted Jehoshaphat into this ill-fated project; for we read that he had already “riches and honour in abundance.” To obtain riches, indeed, there are no dangers men will not risk, no toils they will not undergo, no perils they will not brave. How often does it happen that a man of considerable capital, from the desire to make much more, enters into partnership in some promising speculation with persons of no piety, though professing godliness himself, and constructs his schemes, and lays his plans, all upon their principles, entirely forgetful that without the blessing of Heaven they can never prosper, and that the blessing of Heaven can never rest upon an enterprise in which the requirements of Heaven are disregarded. God has distinctly declared, that “a companion of fools shall be broken”; and has warned us, that if sinners entice, saying, “Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse; we shall find all precious substance; we shall fill our houses with spoil,” we consent not, lest, sharing in the sinner’s godless schemes, we share in the sinner’s disastrous overthrow, and reap a righteous recompense, if not in actual bankruptcy, in the wreck and ruin of our most costly equipments. Many, we are aware, are the plausible pleas and excuses which may be urged by the man of merchandise, and the adventurous moneymaker, who is greedy of gain, in justification of his joint-stock schemes, and unions of interests in speculative enterprises with men who have not the love of God in their hearts, nor “the fear of God before their eyes.”
II. The peril there is to the people of God in all mercantile enterprises apart from religious principle. Be assured, that all alliances with the enemies of God, whether they be in the master of marriage, where gold is often more looked to than goodness, or whether they be in the partnerships of business, or in the undertakings of speculative enterprise; or again, whether they be for the purpose of political party, to prop up a ministry, and to gain strength, as is supposed, to a government, they will assuredly, sooner or later, bring down disaster in the desolating hurricane of Heaven’s displeasure. Over and over again have we seen all such combinations broken up, and scattered to the winds, evincing, that whatever is imagined to be strong through wickedness shall be made contemptible for its weakness. No union can be strong in which God and truth are not the uniting links. Or, to take another case: when oft-occurring calamities lessen the resources of some wealthy company, and a firm in which all men placed unquestioning confidence is overtaken by the desolating tempests of misfortune upon misfortune, and their ships, which were heretofore to be found on every sea, trading for gold, are scattered and wrecked, and bankruptcy is declared, and creditors look blank with astonishment, is there not often reason to believe that the AEolus of the mischief was some ungodly partner, who, because be was thought to be powerful, was taken into the body, without any regard being had to his religious principles. It is only when such alliances are knowingly made that they can, perhaps, be considered criminal. But is there no enterprise upon which man may enter, worthy of his immortal energies, and in which there is no danger of indulging a destructive covetousness, nor of being stricken clown by any desolating disaster. Ah! yes; there is a “merchandise that is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold”; and for this ye need not voyage to the land of Ophir. Jesus Christ says to you, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich”--rich in justifying righteousness, rich in the gift of faith, rich in sanctifying influences, rich in moral graces, rich in meekness for glory. Heavenly “wisdom cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx or the sapphire.” (S. Jenner, M. A.)
The broken ships
Three places are mentioned in our text: Ophir, Tarshish, and Ezion-geber. The first tells us of gold to be got; the second of ships built in which to carry it; while the third speaks of the broken ships and the failure.
I. Ophir, representing the desire. Where Ophir was we do not know with certainty; probably in Arabia or India. It was a district noted for wealth, for Solomon’s fleet used to go to Ophir every third year to bring back gold, ivory, and apes. And Jehoshaphat deems his happiness incomplete; he must have the blessings of Ophir added. He has a throne, but he must have gold. He has a crown of precious jewels, won by David from the King of Ammon, but he must have gold; and he tries to get it. And was there any great sin or harm in that? If there was, then alas for us! for there are very few of us who would not like to fasten our boat to one of Jehoshaphat’s ships, and follow in his wake to a prize so rich and tempting. We should be quite ready to grant Jehoshaphat “liberty to tow” if he would only throw out his hawser to us. And is this desire for gain wrong? Is it inconsistent with a Christian profession? or injurious to a Christian life? One thing is sure, it is a universal and instinctive desire. Go where you will, you find men hurrying and striving; trapping the furs of the North, gathering the fruits of the South; with careful, plodding industry seeking the treasures of the mine, or the soil, or the sea. Scripture does not condemn the business. It commends it. It approves of doing with our might whatever our hands may find to do. It says the man who is “diligent in business shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.” It rebukes sloth as well as too much sleep, as it says: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” And what is it keeps these myriad wheels revolving? that makes the world so busy, saving men from an indolence that would be fatal to all the virtues? It is this same desire for gain, the wish to better one’s circumstances, Go then to Ophir if you will, and if you can. Be diligent. Leave no stone unturned that lies in your path. Increase your substance; but remember to minister to Christ of that substance.
II. Tarshish, and the design. Tashish was a busy emporium. Tarshish is still a busy place, and shipbuilders are many. Thought is busy drawing out her plans, putting plank to plank. And when our preparation is complete, we launch our little craft, sending it afloat among that fleet of ventures which every day goes steering out into the deep. And as we launch our ventures, what hope, what exhilaration, what self-congratulation, as we set the ribbons streaming, and flags fluttering, and wine dashing on the prow! How early in life we begin our shipbuilding! Even in boyhood our hearts and hopes are away in the future. We are building our phantom ships with shadowy sails; and, standing on our shadowy deck, how near the shores of Ophir are! We can almost touch them! Others, many others, have failed, but success to us is certain; at least it seems so to us, for boyhood’s vision is chromatic, it likes to conjure up images. Now most of us have lived some time in Tarshish; and somewhere on the great deep of commercial life our ships are afloat to-day. Some are ordinary merchantmen, whose sails catch the trade winds, and whose voyages are somewhat slow. Some are a more colossal craft, a kind of steamer; your venture is among the manufactures, with its larger capital and its quicker returns. And some have neither of these; so they launch their little row-beat, and, trusting to the skill and strength of their two hands, they hope for a cargo, though it be but a small one And so Tarshish is left behind: Ezion-geber comes in sight.
II. Ezion-geber, and the disappointment. This was a city on the shore of the Red Sea, used by Solomon as a naval station, and as his seaside place of residence. Now in our trading we like to give Ezion-geber a wide berth. We must pass by it, for there is no way of reaching Ophir but by Ezion-geber. There is no success, but we must venture something to gain it; there is no prize, but lies behind some hazard. And how many of our ships have gone aground, and gone to pieces! Some have returned, laden with a heavy, precious freight; but how many are now overdue, how many lost! More ships reach Ezion-geber than reach Ophir. What mean these broken ships?
1. Some are broken because they were built of light, flimsy material. The strongest lasts the longest. A bubble is easily blown; it as easily bursts. And some men are always floating bubbles. The gains of ordinary, legitimate trade are safe, but slow; too slow for those who are making haste to be rich. So they go into speculation. Here is a scheme that looks fair enough: it is to do wonders. The prospectus is a perfect kaleidoscope; look into it and you see gold, silver, pearls, villas, carriages, and all kinds of beautiful things! And the bait takes. Without stopping to make inquiries as to the concern,--whether there is anything substantial to back it, whether or not the names are painted figure-heads,--they put their all in the venture. Soon their ship is broken, and they wring their hands in bitter disappointment. But it was their own fault. Their ship had no framework of solid timber. It was a paste-board ship, with a thick coating of paint. Such people deserve to have broken ships. They did not call in a surveyor, they trusted to a chance.
2. Again, some ships are broken because built of unsound timber. How many have gone down to an unmarked ocean-grave because of rotten planks! And many a vessel is built of worthless timber: men put into them planks worm-eaten, sin-eaten. Can you expect these to succeed? Can you bring home health and happiness in schemes that will not stand the light of the Word, or the survey of conscience? Put sin into anything, and you put weakness in it. Put sin into it, and you nail a curse to it. There is no real gain from injustice or fraud.
3. But our ships are often broken because God breaks them. We put no green wood into our ships; nothing but careful, long-seasoned thought. We called in prudence and skill to draw out the plans, and to superintend the building. We kept a good “look-out” at the prow; we watched the winds and currents, and took frequent soundings. Yet we failed; our plans miscarried; our well-equipped vessel ran aground at Ezion-geber. Why is this? why does God give us now success, and then failure? why these frequent and sometimes bitter disappointments?
Perhaps it may be to teach us wisdom in our partnerships.
1. Even in business it is not best to be yoked together with unbelievers. A twin-ship may ride the sea more steadily, and perhaps carry heavier cargoes; but if the prows do not point the same way, if you have two sets of charts, and two compasses that do not agree, your craft may be where the Alexandrian corn-ship was--in the place where two seas meet, the fore part fast on the rocks, and the hinder part broken by the violence of the waves.
2. Again, they are broken in order to teach us humility. If every plan of ours succeeded, we should be in danger; we should become vain, perhaps boastful; like Nebuchadnezzar, chanting praises to ourselves, how our own hand has gotten this wealth. And so He disappoints us.
3. Or God breaks them because He sees we have enough already. Possibly larger wealth might only bring a barrenness of soul: for it is the tendency of increasing wealth to damp and dwarf the spiritual life. Its increasing cares push out holy thoughts; mind and heart are more and more given to “earthly things,” until the whole life becomes metallic, and religion is simply a creed, or a caricature. In going over the Alps you leave first the secluded valley. Here everything is rich; nature is at her best, covering the fields with corn, and the hillsides with the vines. You ascend and the vines leave you. It is the walnut or the oak that shades your path, and tinkling bells of goats and kine fall musically upon your ear. Higher, and vegetation gets more scant; and instead of the broad leaves of the valley you have the needle-like leaves of the pine and fix. Still higher, and you touch the snows. All is bare and treeless. No fruit, no corn can ripen, for winter claims all the seasons here. And how much is that like many lives! Down in the humbler, lowlier days there was a wealth of heart, though there was poverty of purse. The life was clothed with a beautiful foliage. Sympathies were generous and swift. Hands, feet, and lips steered a glad though a lowly service. But fortune favoured them, wealth poured in upon them. Personal service became more rare, they learned to pay for substitutes, and to serve God by proxy, Rising financially and socially, they declined spiritually. And what are they to-day? Icy Alpine peaks, frowning out of their perpetual cloud, driving the song-birds away, and making the venturesome traveller who calls for a subscription shiver with frost.
4. Or God breaks our ships that we may lean more upon Himself. Our losses after all often prove our truest, richest gains. Our night of failure and disappointment brings the calmer morning, and as we sit down at the Master’s feet, gazing in wonder and love upon Him, and taking from His hands the Divine bread, our “hard toiling” and empty nets are forgotten! Let the Lord give us as many failures as He will, so long as He gives us Himself. On the bare, bleak rocks of Ezion-geber if He be with us, we shall say: “Master, it is good to be here. It is better here with Thee than at Ophir without Thee.” Nay, let the Lord break all our plans, dash upon the rocks all our prospects, all our earthly hopes; what matter it, if only we get “safe to land!” “Fear not,” sang the Roman sailor to his boat, “thou carriest Caesar and his fortunes.” So let the storm beat, rocks threaten as they may, we still can sing: “Bear up, O heart! Thou carriest, not Caesar, but Caesar’s King--the Christ, the perfect Man, the Living God.” (H. Burton, M. A.)
Jehoshaphat’s wrecked ships
This subject has especial pertinence to business men.
I. Where one good man may succeed another may fall. Solomon had done the very thing that Jehoshaphat proposed. What Solomon did prosperously Jehoshaphat vainly attempted. Why was this? The thing itself was right. God would not have one nation isolated from another. He would have unbrotherliness broken down, and men learn in the barter of commerce that “none of us liveth to himself.” Countries differ in their productions, and each can furnish something to the wardrobe, table, or adornment of the rest. The merchant has no philanthropy, perhaps, moving him to his commercial ventures, but every ship in the foreign market and bearing its honest freightage to our own is a herald of Him who came to proclaim “goodwill to men.” Industry is provoked, and that is good; the poor ore helped into comfort, the international sentiment is strengthened, the war demon is fettered, and the separated parts of the earth are united by mutual dependence and blessing. No one land is made for itself alone.
II. Jehoshaphat’s ships were broken to separate him from a sinful partnership. Thus was ended his alliance with an idolator. Very stringent was God’s word against such a union. And now, the work broken, God’s rod expounded the word. And in the clearer, wider times of Christianity, can we be careless about our partnerships? If wrong for a king to join in shipbuilding and a commercial venture with a worshipper of idols, can it be right in us, of choice, to yoke with the wicked in the pursuits of business? Is it not written by Paul, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Difficulties meet us here, as where, indeed, do they not in the Divine life? Narrow is the way now as ever. A workman may have comrades as spiritually distant from him--more spiritually distant than the sundered roles. What is that Christian man to do? To cut himself adrift from his occupation there because of those ungodly men around him? What is the Christian merchant to do who has an unchristian partner in his firm? Must that partnership be dissolved? How easily can questions accumulate upon us! And what shall we say? We can but lay down principles to be applied to the individual case by Bible-enlightened conscience. Any business, any business transaction which cannot be undertaken as beneath God’s eye should not be undertaken by God’s children. For a Christian man to choose association, partnership with immoral men is presumption. He may do good, but how much more likely to receive harm? He is but one, and his judgment may be overruled by the verdict of others. Is God only for the Sabbath and sanctuary, the religious meeting, and the dying hour? He is to be acknowledged in all our ways. Business is to be transacted in his fear. We may be united to practices as well as individuals, and these, though familiar by habit, may be a damage to the soul. Good political economy may be very bad Christianity. Any infraction of the royal law is that, whoever may be guilty of it.
III. Jehoshaphat’s ships were broken to good purpose. The ships were built at Ezion-geber, and there were they wrecked. A great loss this; all the outlay and the golden hopes scattered in broken planks and beams and drift-wood upon the seashore. But God was in this thing. “The Lord hath broken thy works,” said the prophet to the king. The storm had done, as the Lord would have it, double duty--had broken the merchantmen and Jehoshaphat’s alliance with his heathen neighbour. The loss might have been greater. Troubles are mercies if they have with us similar result. Better that a man’s possessions go down like a house of cards than that he go down into spiritual destruction. Better than a man s projects be broken up like those ancient Jewish ships, than that he made shipwreck of faith and a pure conscience. Oh, many a man has wrung his hands amid the shattered prosperity of life, and he has cried, “I am ruined,” while the clear-eyed angels have been celebrating his deliverance from the maelstrom that sucks down into hell. Welcome such losses! Blessed be such calamities! Let them be sudden and violent! Shall the passenger sleeping in his cabin complain because the captain has roughly aroused him to the fact that the vessel is in the swift, fierce hands of there demon rushing from stem to stern? Better so aroused than to sleep till escape is impossible. That can be no real calamity which wakes a man to the peril of his soul, and flings him on a huge wave up upon the Rock of Ages. A ship was settling down into the sea. Oh, the horror in every eye! “Then shrieked the timid, and stood still the brave!” But lo, a vessel of rescue drew near, and through speaking-trumpet the captain cried, as boats were launched for their succour, “Come all on board with me!” To us comes in sight a shining barque: angels man it, and: evening breezes wafting and lo! the Captain cries, “My name is Jesus, My ship salvation, My haven heaven. Come all on board with Me!” How wise to heed that voice! (G. T. Coster.)
The lessons of adversity
We have read of a ship departing from one of the New England ports in the early period of the colony: she never reached her destination; she was never heard of afterwards. The narrative went on to say that one pleasant summer afternoon, long after, the New England people were standing by the sea when they saw a vessel approach the shore which they knew by its build and rigging to be the very missing ship. It drew nearer and nearer until every line of rigging was visible, and even the faces of those on board. Then suddenly the vision faded, the sails dissolved in cloud, the spars were lost in the mist-lines of the sky, the hull disappeared beneath the waters, the spectre-barque was no more. So years ago we made Treat ventures, cherished great hopes, but to-day we know how many of these schemes have been dashed, and the ships we sent forth with so much pride and joy are now melting away into nothingness, like the apparitional ship of the legend. Our dreams of prosperity have proved nothing more than dreams; our fond hopes have been confounded. The ships of Jehoshaphat were not lost without a reason, neither are ours, and we ought humbly to learn the lessons of adversity.
I. We view our wrecked hopes in the light of rebuke. Our misfortune may be a rebuke for some immoral principle that has found expression in our life. I believe that there never was a period in the history of the world when morality was recognised in trade as fully as it is to-day; but this granted, there is plenty of immorality existent there still--much that is dishonest, unfair, selfish. The immorality of trade accounts for many a stagnation, many a crisis, many a black Friday. Our wrecked ships ought to call attention to the principles on which we have sailed them, and if we find that we have entered into immoral partnerships, brought into our business equivocal principles, made guilty concessions for the sake of realising some coveted gain or pleasure, we need not wonder that our ships have been broken, and we must be careful that the bitterest tears we shed over them are tears of penitence. Our misfortune may be a rebuke to the godless temper in which we have conducted our business. God stands at the back of the natural world and the commercial world, acting with infinite freedom throughout. There is a long chain of things, causes, forces, but the last link of the chain is in the hand of God. Let us accept these catastrophics as rebukes for our lack of religious thought and feeling in practical life. Our misfortunes are blessed if they show us our errors and sins, and lead us into truer pathways. There is no more awful thing in life than for a man to succeed in immoral and godless ways; any blasting wind is good that saves us from that. Thank God for disaster if it only opens our eyes and saves our soul.
II. We may view our wrecked ships in the light of mercy. We often see men tried by success, and they fail under the trial ignominiously. God knows what each of His children can and ought to bear, and He will not subject us to any unfitting or excessive ordeal. If your ships had brought the treasure you hoped for, you would have lived in a larger house, you would have ridden instead of walking as you do now, a great many more people would have known you than know you now, you would have sat with Dives instead of being the near neighbour of Lazarus.
III. We may view our wrecked ships in the light of discipline. If we do not regard the frustration of our hopes as aiming immediately at the salvation of our soul, we may certainly regard such disasters as designed to effect the development and enrichment of our soul. And is not this development and enrichment of the soul the grand end of life? Is not the top prize of existence the crown of personal and immortal righteousness? God perfects His people in very different ways; some through wealth, some through want, making both in the end equally complete. The mountains of the earth are all glorious, but, like the stars of the sky, they differ in glory. Up to a certain point life is a course of victory and ever-increasing volume of power and success; then, again, it is a story of frustration and failure; one voyage the ships bring the gold, the next they are broken. But let us be sure that in this way God designs to give us the fulness of perfection. The scientists tell us that during the great southern Glacial Period many southern plants were driven to northerly climates, and then again the glaciation of the northern hemisphere drove northern plants to southerly climates; and so on the Organ mountains of Brazil both Arctic and Antarctic plants are found commingled in strange brotherhood, testifying to the alternate glaciation of the two hemispheres. Brethren, as by the world’s changing climate the flowers of the two hemispheres have been assembled on these Brazilian mountains, mingling their divergent beauty and sweetness, so God, by alternations of health and sickness, success and failure, joy and sorrow, brings together in the character of His children all the bright graces of the moral universe.
IV. We may view our wrecked ships in the light of prophecy. They may remind us of the coming day when all our gold ships will go down in Jordan’s tide, leaving not a floating spar for us to gather. Keep that before you. Some Colonial writer objecting to Chinese immigration, says, “The Chinaman thinks more of a splendid coffin than he does of an upright life.” What a strange charge to bring against a Chinaman! Do not many Englishmen think more of a purple coffin than they do of a noble life? Let us not live for a splendid coffin, but for a splendid character. Let us live that we may be true and pure. Whatever this world has given us, it will soon demand from us, just as the waves of the sea suck back the glittering shells with which they first strewed the shore. Do not sail your soul in your ships. Lay up treasure where moth and rust do not corrupt. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
We have here--
I. A bad man.
1. He was low in origin. Son of one of Solomon’s servants, whom the king, finding industrious, made a ruler. His evil character soon became manifest.
2. He formed the ambitious design of usurping the throne. When his design was discovered, he fled to Egypt.
3. At Solomon’s death he returned to Jerusalem, proclaimed himself king, and was followed by the ten tribes.
4. He was, notwithstanding, a mighty man of valour. We have--
II. A bad man raised up by God for a specific purpose. This purpose was the fulfilment of the curse pronounced on David. Some of God’s most powerful agents are the wicked. The grandest of His designs have been accomplished by the vilest of the earth.
III. An instrument of God using his position for evil. “The son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” This is the description always given to him afterwards. There is no more terrible epithet to be applied to man. Fearful is the condition of him who steps up to the height of his ambition on the blood of immortal souls.
IV. A crafty, wise man profiting by the folly of another. Rehoboam and Jeroboam were both bad, but Rehoboam lacked the craft and skill of his enemy. Had Rehoboam taken the advice of the wise man, he might have held his position and his kingdom. He missed his chance, and Jeroboam seized the opportunity. It is the tide taken at the turn that enables the wise to surmount all difficulties. (Homilist.)
The extent of man’s responsibility for the sins of his neighbour
I. With respect to parents. In the workings of God’s providence it shall be so arranged that wicked parents shall entail on their children the consequences of their sins. We see that it is the Divine economy that parents are, in a great measure, accountable for the sins of their children. In a physical sense we have this truth daily proved before our eyes; for we see the sad effects of disease haunting, as it were, a family in consequence of the dissipation and wickedness of a father or mother. We likewise see children reduced to poverty, and thrown amid various temptations which, so to speak, do not properly belong to them--would not have been theirs, that is, but for the evil course of parents, who by extravagance, or worse, have made beggars of their children. Apply it now practically to the courses of business and pleasure, and see where your duty lies. In respect of business, it is clear that no parent must follow any unlawful calling, because by this he is at all times setting before his Children the examples of open wickedness. But he must also see that, in choosing an occupation or business for his children, he choose one not only lawful in itself, but which will not be the means of tempting the child to commit wickedness. You are responsible to God for the education of your children. If they grow up ignorant, who can be to blame but yourselves? And you are responsible too for the right education of your children; not merely that they shall be taught the simple rudiments of everyday instruction, but that they be taught the “beginning of wisdom,” which is “the fear of the Lord.” You are commanded in God’s Word to bring them up in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Then, again, in respect of pleasure, who but you are answerable that you provide for your children proper amusements? If you lead worldly lives, and lead your children into all kinds of evil gaiety and dissipation, who is answerable? The providing of lawful amusements for young people--lawful, that is, according to the Word of God--is a most important part of education; for every one knows the soul-destroying evils which result from wrong amusements.
II. Masters. The responsibility of the servant is very great that he obey his master; but, of course, the responsibility of the master towards the servant is of a higher degree, because authority is his; and it is in his power to use his influence for good or evil. The servant is bidden to obey the master in all things lawful. But servants are not always judges of what is lawful, and what not. Masters have it in their power, with the greater number of their servants, to make them do What is wrong. Then with respect to pleasure. Surely a master is most responsible that his servants do not with his knowledge indulge in any unlawful amusements. The servant under his roof is a part and parcel of his family; and, while it s his duty to say with Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord,” he must take care that the Sabbath is not broken by his servants taking unlawful pleasure on that day, any more than by doing their business.
III. And now, apply this subject to superiors. If one man by his influence, or his authority, of whatever kind it may be, throws an obstruction in the heavenward way of his neighbour, leads him astray by temptation, or deceives him by his conduct, or compels him to do what is wrong, he then surely is in that most fearful position of the man by whom an offence has come to his neighbour, and against whom the woe of God is denounced. If in matters of business we in any way cause others to do what is wrong; if by our example we indirectly make them commit sin, or by Our precept say that in business honesty and truth are of little or no consequence, or by our authority we make those under us tell lies for our advantage, or do what is dishonest, we then put stumbling-blocks in our neighbours’ way, and the woe of the Almighty is hanging over our heads. (R. H. Davis.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》