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327

CHAPTER XXXI.

JEHOSHAPHAT.

1 Kings xxii. 41-50.

Before we leave the House of David we must speak of Jehoshaphat, the last king of Judah whose reign is narrated in the First Book of Kings. He was abler, more powerful, and more faithful to Jehovah than any of his predecessors, and was alone counted worthy in later ages to rank with Hezekiah and Josiah among the most pious rulers of the Davidic line. The annals of his reign are found chiefly in the Second Book of Chronicles, where his story occupies four long chapters. The First Book of Kings compresses all record of him into nine verses, except so far as his fortunes are commingled with the history of Ahab. But both accounts show us a reign which contributed as greatly to the prosperity of Judah as that of Jeroboam II. contributed to the prosperity of Israel.

He ascended the throne at the age of thirty-five. He was apparently the only son of Asa, by Azubah, the daughter of Shilhi; for Asa, greatly to his credit, seems to have been the first king of Judah who set his face against the monstrous polygamy of his predecessors, and, so far as we know, contented himself with a single wife. He received the high eulogy that "he turned not328 aside from doing that which was right in the eyes of the Lord," with the customary qualification that, nevertheless, the people still burnt incense and offerings at the Bamoth, which were not taken away. The chronicler says that he did take them away. This stock contradiction between the two authorities must be accounted for either by a contrast between the effort and its failure, or by a distinction between idolatrous Bamoth and those dedicated to the worship of Jehovah to which the people clung with the deep affection which local sanctuaries inspire.

To the historians of the Book of Kings the central fact of Jehoshaphat's history is that "he made peace with the King of Israel." As a piece of ordinary statesmanship no step could have been more praiseworthy. The sixty-eight years or more which had elapsed since the divinely-suggested choice of Jeroboam by the Northern Kingdom had tended to soften old exasperations. The kingdom of Israel was now an established fact, and nothing had become more obvious than that the past could not be undone. Meanwhile the threatening spectre of Syria, under the dynasty of Benhadad, was beginning to throw a dark shadow over both kingdoms. It had become certain that, if they continued to destroy each other by internecine warfare, both would succumb to the foreign invader. Wisely, therefore, and kindly Jehoshaphat determined to make peace with Ahab, in about the eighth year after his accession; and this policy he consistently maintained to the close of his twenty-five years' reign.

No one surely could blame him for putting an end to an exhaustive civil war between brethren. Indeed, in so doing he was but carrying out the policy which had been dictated to Rehoboam by the prophet Shemaiah,329 when he forbade him to attempt the immense expedition which he had prepared to annihilate Jeroboam. Peace was necessary to the development and happiness of both kingdoms, but even more so to the smaller and weaker, threatened as it was not only by the more distant menace of Syria, but by the might of Egypt on the south and the dangerous predatory warfare of Edom and Moab on the east.

But Jehoshaphat went further than this. He cemented the new peace by an alliance between his young son Jehoram and Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, who was then perhaps under fifteen years of age.

Later chroniclers formed their moral estimates by a standard which did not exist so many centuries before the date at which they wrote. If we are to judge the conduct of these kings truthfully we must take an unbiassed view of their conduct. We adopt this principle when we try to understand the characters of saints and patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or judges and prophets like Gideon, Deborah, and Samuel; and in general we must not sweepingly condemn the holy men of old because they lacked the full illumination of the gospel. We must be guided by a spirit of fairness if we desire to form a true conception of the kings who lived in the ninth century before Christ. It is probable that the religious gulf between the kings of Judah and Israel was not so immense as on a superficial view it might appear to be; indeed, the balance seems to be in favour of Jeroboam as against Abijam, Rehoboam, or even Solomon. The worship of the golden symbols at Dan and Bethel did not appear half so heinous to the people of Judah as it does to us. Even in the Temple they had cherubim and oxen. The Bamoth to Chemosh, Milcom, and Astarte glittered before them undisturbed on the330 summit of Olivet, and abominations which they either tolerated or could not remove sheltered themselves in the very precincts of the Temple, under the shadows of its desecrated trees. To the pious Jehoshaphat the tolerance of Baal-worship by Ahab could hardly appear more deadly than the tolerance of Chemosh-worship by his great-great-grandfather, and the permission of Asherim and Chammanim by his grandfather, to say nothing of the phallic horror openly patronised by the queen-mother who was a granddaughter of David. That Ahab himself was a worshipper of Jehovah is sufficiently proved by the fact that he had given the name of Athaliah to the young princess whose hand Jehoshaphat sought for his son, and the name of Ahaziah ("Jehovah taketh hold") to the prince who was to be his heir. Jehoshaphat acted from policy; but so has every king done who has ever reigned. He could neither be expected to see these things with the illumination of a prophet, nor to read—as later writers could do in the light of history—the awful issues involved in an alliance which looked to him so necessary and so advantageous.

At the time of the proposed alliance there seems to have been no protest—at any rate, none of which we read. Micaiah alone among the prophets uttered his stern warning when the expedition to Ramoth Gilead was actually on foot, and Jehu, son of Hanani, went out to rebuke Jehoshaphat at the close of that disastrous enterprise. It is to the history attributed to this seer and embodied in the annals of Israel that the chronicler refers. "Shouldst thou help the wicked," asked the bold prophet, "and love them that hate the Lord? For this thing wrath is upon thee from the Lord. Nevertheless, there are good things found in331 thee, in that thou hast put away the Asheroth out of the land, and hast set thy heart to seek God."

The moral principle which Jehu, son of Hanani, here enunciated is profoundly true. It was terribly emphasised by the subsequent events. A just and wise forecast may have sanctioned the restoration of peace, but Jehoshaphat might at least have learnt enough to avoid affinity with a queen who, like Jezebel, had introduced frightful and tyrannous iniquities into the House of Ahab. Faithful as the King of Judah evidently intended to be to the law of Jehovah, he should have hesitated before forming such close bonds of connexion with the cruel daughter of the usurping Tyrian priest. His error hardly diminished the warmth of that glowing eulogy which even the chronicler pronounces upon him; but it brought upon his kingdom, and upon the whole family of his grandchildren, overwhelming misery and all but total extermination. The rules of God's moral government are written large on the story of nations, and the consequences of our actions come upon us not arbitrarily, but in accordance with universal laws. When we err, even though our error be leniently judged and fully pardoned, the human consequences of the deeds which we have done may still come flowing over us with the resistless march of the ocean tides.

"You little fancy what rude shocks apprise us.

We sin: God's intimations rather fail

In clearness than in energy."

Jehoshaphat did not live to see the ultimate issues of massacre and despotism which came in the train of his son Jehoram's marriage.561561   Following the precedent set by Rehoboam, he established his six younger sons in castles and fenced cities. Athaliah must have found it difficult to exterminate their families if she attempted this. Perhaps to him it wore the332 golden aspect which it wears in the forty-fifth Psalm, which, as some have imagined, was composed on this occasion. But he had abundant proof that close relationship for mutual offence and defence with the kings of Israel brought no blessing in its train. In the expedition against Ramoth Gilead when Ahab was slain, he too very nearly lost his life. Even this did not disturb his alliance with Ahab's son Ahaziah, with whom he joined in a maritime enterprise which, like its predecessors, turned out to be a total failure.

Jehoshaphat in his successful wars had established the supremacy over Edom which had been all but lost in the days of Solomon. The Edomite Hadad and his successors had not been able to hold their own, and the present kings of Edom were deputies or vassals under the suzerainty of Judæa.562562   The Nitzab or Præfect of Edom was allowed the barren title of king. This once more opened the path to Elath and Ezion-Geber on the gulf of Akaba. Jehoshaphat, in his prosperity, felt a desire to revive the old costly commerce of Solomon with Ophir for gold, sandal wood, and curious animals. For this purpose he built "ships of Tarshish," i.e., merchant ships, like those used for the Phœnician trade between Tyre and Tartessus, to go this long voyage. The ships, however, were wrecked on the reefs of Ezion-Geber, for the Jews were timid and inexperienced mariners. Hearing of this disaster, according to the Book of Kings, Ahaziah made an offer to Jehoshaphat to make the enterprise a joint one,—thinking, apparently, that the Israelites, who, perhaps, held Joppa and some of the ports on the coast, would bring more skill and knowledge to bear on the result. But Jehoshaphat had had enough of an attempt which was so dangerous333 and which offered no solid advantages. He declined Ahaziah's offer. The story of these circumstances in the chronicler is different. He speaks as if from the first it was a joint experiment of the two kings, and says that, after the wreck of the fleet, a prophet of whom we know nothing, "Eliezer, the son of Dodavahu of Mareshah,"563563   2 Chron. xx. 37. His name faintly recalls that of Eleazar, son of Dodo (2 Sam. xxiii. 9). Dodavahu means "friend of God." prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, "Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, Jehovah hath made a breach in thy works." The passage shows that the word "prophesied" was constantly used in the sense of "preached," and did not necessarily imply any prediction of events yet future. The chronicler, however, apparently makes the mistake of supposing that ships were built at Ezion-Geber on the Red Sea to sail to Tartessus in Spain!564564   2 Chron. xx. 36, 37. It would be monstrous to send ships to circumnavigate Africa in order to reach Tartessus. The last resource of the harmonists (e.g., Keil) to save the accuracy of the chronicler is to suppose that Jehoshaphat meant to drag the whole fleet across the Isthmus of Suez, and so to sail from one of the havens of Palestine! The earlier and better authority says correctly that these merchantmen were built to trade with Ophir, in India, or Arabia. The chronicler seems to have been unaware that "ships of Tarshish," like our "Indiamen," was a general title for vessels of a special build.565565   "Cette version," says Munk (Palestine, p. 314), "a probablement pris naissance dans l'esprit de rigorisme qui animait plus tard les écrivans Juifs." "This," says Dr. Robertson Smith, "is a mere pragmatical inference from the story in Kings." See his further remarks in The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, chap. ii., p. 146. He regards parts of the Books of Chronicles as being, in fact, a Jewish Midrash. "It is not History, but Haggada, moralising romance. And the chronicler himself gives the name of Midrash (R.V., 'story') to two of the sources from which he drew (2 Chron. xiii. 22, xxiv. 27), so that there is really no mystery as to the nature of the work when it departs from the old canonical histories" (p. 148).

We see enough in the Book of Kings to show the greatness and goodness of Jehoshaphat, and later on334 we shall hear details of his military expeditions.566566   We shall have further glimpses of Jehoshaphat in the reigns of Ahab and even of Jehoram. The chronicler, glorifying him still more, says that he sent princes and Levites and priests to teach the Book of the Law throughout all the cities of Judah; that he received large presents and tribute from neighbouring peoples; that he built castles and stone cities; and that he had a stupendous army of 160,000 troops under four great generals. He also narrates that when an immense host of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunim came against him to Hazezon-Tamar or Engedi, he took his stand before the people in the Temple in front of the new court and prayed. Thereupon the Spirit of the Lord came upon "Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah the Levite, of the sons of Asaph," who told them that the next day they should go against the invader, but that they need not strike a blow. The battle was God's, not theirs. All they had to do was to stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah. On hearing this the king and all his people prostrated themselves, and the Levites stood up to praise God. Next morning Jehoshaphat told his people to believe God and His prophets and they should prosper, and bade them chant the verse, "Give thanks unto the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever," which now forms the refrain of Psalm cxxxvi.567567   See 1 Chron. xvi. 34; 2 Chron. v. 13, vii. 3, xx. 21; Psalms cvi., cvii., cxviii., etc. The eighty-third Psalm may owe its origin to this deliverance, and Hengstenberg thinks Psalms xlvii. and xlviii. also. On this Jehovah "set liers in wait against335 the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir." Intestine struggles arose among the invaders. The inhabitants of Mount Seir were first destroyed, and the rest then turned their swords against each other until they were all "dead bodies fallen to the earth." The soldiers of Jehoshaphat despoiled these corpses for three days, and on the fourth assembled themselves in the valley of Beracah ("Blessing"), which received its name from their tumultuous rejoicings.568568   The title "valley of Jehoshaphat" is thought also to have derived its origin from these events. Comp. Joel iii. 2. After this they returned to Jerusalem with psalteries and harps and trumpets, and God gave Jehoshaphat rest from all his enemies round about. Of all this the historian of the Kings tells us nothing. Jehoshaphat died full of years and honours, leaving seven sons, of whom the eldest was Jehoram.569569   2 Chron. xxi. 2, 3. His reign marks a decisive triumph of the prophetic party. The prophets not only felt a fiercely just abhorrence of the abominations of Canaanite idolatry, but wished to establish a theocracy to the exclusion on the one hand of all local and symbolic worship, and on the other of all reliance on worldly policy. Up to this time, as Dean Stanley says in his usual strikingly picturesque manner, "if there was a 'holy city,' there was also an 'unholy city' within the walls of Sion. It was like a seething caldron of blood and froth 'whose scum is therein and whose scum has not gone out of it.' The Temple was hemmed in by dark idolatries on every side. Mount Olivet was covered with heathen sanctuaries, monumental stones, and pillars of Baal. Wooden images of Astarte under the sacred trees, huge images of Molech appeared at every turn in the walks around Jerusalem."570570   There is a little exaggeration here. Jehoshaphat336 introduced a decisive improvement into the conditions which prevailed under Rehoboam and Abijah, but practically the conflict between light and darkness goes on for ever. It was in days when Jerusalem had come to be regarded by herself and by all nations as exceptionally holy, that she, who had been for centuries the murderess of the prophets, became under her priestly religionists the murderess of the Christ, and—far different in God's eyes from what she was in her own—deserved the dreadful stigma of being "the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt."


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