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Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 4 and 5
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapters 14 to 16
Chapters 17 and 18
The government of God in exercise in the Books of Kings
Before passing on to the Second Book of Kings, I will add some general remarks, which apply equally to the two books.
That which is here in question is the government of God. Now the principles of this government are laid open to us in the revelation made to Moses, when he went up the second time to Mount Sinai (Ex. 33). There was, first of all, goodness and mercy; then the declaration that the guilty shall not be held innocent; and, thirdly, a principle of public government, which caused the effects of misconduct to be felt, namely, that their children should bear its consequences (a principle which could not be applied where the soul is in question); but this principle important and salutary in the outward government of the world is verified daily in that of providence. This government of God was in exercise in the case of the kings; but the condition of Israel depended on the conduct of the kings.
Prophecy set up by God in testimony and grace
We have already seen that the fall of the priesthood and the demand for a king had placed the people in this position — a position which will be one of blessing when Christ shall be their King; but, meantime, God had set up prophecy, a more intimate and real connection between the counsels of God and His people. The existence of a king placed the people under the effect of their governor's responsibility.
The prophet was there on the part of God Himself in testimony and in grace. He recalled to the people the duties attached to this responsibility; but he was himself a proof of those counsels which assured them of future blessing, and of the interest which God took in their enjoying it both then and at all times. He supplied the key also to God's dealings, which were difficult to be understood without this.
We, Christians, have both these things. God will have us act by faith upon our own responsibility; but close communion with Him reveals to us the cause of many things, as also the perfection of His ways. Thus, in His public government, God could well bless Israel after the events related in chapter 18. They strengthened the faith of His own people. Chapter 19 shews us the secret judgment of God upon the real state of things; and it was speedily manifested. Ahab knows not how to profit by the blessing; he spares Benhadad; and the affair of Naboth shews that Jezebel's influence is as strong as ever.
God's patience and mercy manifested
But to what a degree are the patience and mercy of God manifested in all this, according to Exodus 33! Ahab, rebuked by Elijah, humbles himself, and the evil comes to pass neither in the days of Ahab, nor in those of Ahaziah, but in the days of Jehoram, who was also his son, and that according to the principle already laid down. Personally Jehoram was less wicked than his father and his brother. He did not worship Baal. Israel, however, who had been led into the worship of this idol, still bows down to it.
The difference between God's judgment and the appearance of things
Observe the difference between the judgment of God and the appearance of things. The judgment of God was pronounced against the king and against Israel (chap. 19); yet prosperity and peace generally marked this reign, as we have seen. Syria is subdued, Moab tributary; and Judah in unaccustomed prosperity leagues itself with Israel. The king of Judah was as Ahab, his people as Ahab's people, and his horses as Ahab's. It was even proposed to send to Ophir for gold, as in the days of Solomon. Nevertheless judgment was only suspended, and its suspension was revealed to none but Elijah.
The alliances of believers with the unfaithful
But what was morally the character of this alliance? It is Jehoshaphat who comes to Ahab, and not Ahab to Jehoshaphat. The latter asks, as a favour, that Jehovah may be consulted. After this request the false prophets make use of Jehovah's name to announce the success of the enterprise. This was natural enough; for the Syrians having been overcome, and having failed in performing the conditions of peace laid upon them, Ahab was going to assert his rights with the help of the king of Judah.
In short Jehovah's name is in the mouth of the false prophets. Micaiah (for the king of Judah was uneasy) — Micaiah, being come, announces misfortune. But Ahab's mind was made up; and the king of Judah was bound by his engagement. It was no longer time to consult Jehovah: to inquire after the truth, in such a position as this, was but to learn a judgment which they had resolved to contemn. Ahab was more consistent than Jehoshaphat. The conscience of the latter only made every one uncomfortable, and proved his own folly. To please Jehoshaphat by speaking to him of Jehovah was no more than decency required; but it was all that Ahab did for Jehoshaphat, except that he unwillingly sent for Micaiah. Jehoshaphat helped Ahab against Syria; he helped Jehoram against Moab; but neither Ahab nor his son helped Jehoshaphat in any one thing, except to be unfaithful to Jehovah. Ahaziah was willing indeed to go with him, but it was in order to obtain gold from Ophir. It would rather appear that this alliance was the cause of that between Moab, Ammon, and Seir against Jehoshaphat. Happily it was no question then of succouring Israel.
Such is the history of the alliances of believers, not only with unbelievers, but with the unfaithful. The latter are very willing that we should go with them; but to walk in the ways of truth is another thing. This is not the question with them; if they so walked, they would cease to be unfaithful. A true union would necessarily have made Jerusalem the centre and capital of the land: for Jehovah and His temple were there. The alliance took it for granted that Jehoshaphat had given up all such idea, since it shewed that he recognised Ahab in his position. There is no equality in an alliance between truth and error; since, by this very alliance, truth ceases to be truth, and error does not thereby become truth. The only thing lost is the authority and obligation of the truth.
I have anticipated some of the events related in the Second Book of Kings, in which we find the greater part of Jehoshaphat's history. Let us now proceed to examine the contents of this Second Book.