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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

2 Chronicles 18

Verses 1-34

The Advantage of an Indirect Aim

2 Chronicles 18:33

I. The story connected with this passage is a very suggestive one. Ahab, King of Israel, was regarded by the righteous as the enemy of God, and by all classes as the enemy of man. Elaborate plans were laid to put down his influence. These all failed. Every effort to arrest his baleful hand proved abortive. A whole army tried it. They directed all their arrows toward the one man; but they all missed him. At last a strange thing happened. An obscure soldier in that army was trifling with his time shooting an arrow to amuse himself. The trifle became a tragedy. The shot meant for the air struck the enemy of righteousness; he fell, and died.

II. The event came from a hand that was not seeking it, from an act that was not designing it. It is no uncommon experience. How often you and I get without effort a thing for whose acquisition we have striven long and vainly! It seems at the last to come to our very door. You remember a name when you have ceased to search for it, when you have begun to think of something else. You exert an influence when you have given up trying to do so, when you have left your friend severely alone.

III. I do not think anxiety to achieve an end is favourable to its achievement. I am quite sure that all anxiety about a merely personal aim diverts the arrow from the goal. When God promised Abraham a great kingdom, He added, 'In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed'. He was to get the former by shooting at the latter. I have never, known a man to win physical success by making physical success the direct object of his aim. The mark of the worldly prize is hit by aiming at something different. David sang to the woods ere he was overheard by kings. The broken box of ointment filled with its fragrance the house of humanity; yet it was meant but for one head. The arrow that strikes the mark of eternal fame is the arrow that aims at the welfare of the hour.

G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 273.

2 Chronicles 18:33

The best things in life are secured without seeking. The noblest prizes are won without striving. There are certain things that we never get by aiming at them. Pursue these things and they elude your grasp, but go on doing your humble duty and they present themselves to you unsought. That is what the Bishop of Ripon calls 'the Jaw of indirectness,' and it is a law of the spiritual life.

A whole army was out for the specific purpose of killing one bad man, the King of Israel. Every arrow was directed against one man and they all missed him. At last a soldier drew a bow at a venture, and that random shot smote the king so that he died. The object of the army was attained by an obscure and unknown soldier.

I. The law of indirectness holds good in the secular realm. There is, it may be admitted, a poor lookout for the man like Mr. Micawber, who is waiting for something to turn up. Strenuous effort is necessary for success. One of Sir Walter Raleigh's friends, when asked to explain the weight and width of his learning, replied that he could toil terribly. At the same time certain high distinctions come to those who do not seek them. The poet and the artist must cultivate the whole soul and mind if great achievements are to be won. We become masters by not seeking directly to be masters, but by trying to be good servants. The unscrupulous man does sometimes flourish in this world like a green bay-tree, but for the patient and honest worker, though success may be slow in coming, it seldom fails to come at last.

II. The Spiritual Realm. 1. We may apply the principle of the text to the great prize of happiness what Robert Louis Stevenson calls the great task of happiness. For many people happiness is the end of all their striving and, because they aim at it, they miss it If you want to be happy do not seek to be happy, seek rather to do your duty. John Stuart Mill said those only fire happy who have their minds fixed on some other object than their own happiness. All experience teaches the lesson that the men who make pleasure their aim never get it. The professed pleasure-seeker is, as a rule, a most abject person. There is only one pessimistic book in the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes. It contains the confessions of a pleasure-seeker. The result in his case was self-loathing and despair. Remember the words of Carlyle in Sartor: 'Love not pleasure, love God. This is the everlasting Yea wherein all contradiction is solved, wherein whoso walks and works it is well with him.'

2. Honour. Many long to win the prize of honour, but honour does not come to the man who seeks it; he may gain honours, a very different thing. The world never honours the self-seeker. The men whom it honours are a David Livingstone, a Shaftesbury, a General Booth. Heaven has no honour for the self-seeker, to aim at glory is to miss it. The man who uses his religion to gain a reputation receives all the reward he will ever get down here.

3. Life. Human experience teaches further that life itself, in the fullest sense, is won not by those who seek to save it but by those who are ready to fling it away. Self-culture was the motto of the Greeks, self-sacrifice is the motto of the Christian. Both are seeking life, but it is only the Christian who can win it. Selfishness is the death of the soul, sacrifice its meat and its life. Our Lord Himself is enthroned today in the affections of millions because He gave His life for the life of the world.

J. D. Jones.

References. XIX. 1-11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Kings, Chronicles, etc., p. 165.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 18". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/2-chronicles-18.html. 1910.