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- 1 Kings
by Joseph Parker
The Kings of Israel and Judah
ISRAEL was but a small nation at the first, consequently its division into two rival monarchies at the close of the reign of Solomon could not but weaken its influence, as well as destroy its tranquillity. The ruin of the whole people was certainly signified by this untoward event Up to this time, its invasion upon the Gentiles had been marked by abounding success, but henceforward the Gentiles found themselves oppressed by a greatly weakened enemy. The disruption was foretold by Ahijah to Jeroboam during the reign of Solomon. In its proper place we shall see that the prediction was dramatically delivered. Ahijah found Jeroboam in the way as he "went out of Jerusalem," and "they two were alone in the field: and Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: and he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces." Rehoboam, the son and successor of Solomon, missed an opportunity of conciliating the whole people and bringing them to a loyal acceptance of his reign and will. Rehoboam, however, rejected every thought of approach as between himself and the people, and trusted to his power to stamp out the threatened rebellion. When he went to be crowned at Shechem, the people, headed by Jeroboam, presented a respectful petition, asking the king for some relief from the oppressive burdens which his father had laid upon them. Rehoboam took three days to consider the matter. The old men who had stood before Solomon his father advised that Rehoboam should meet the people in a generous and confiding spirit: "Speak good words to them; then they will be thy servants for ever." On the contrary, Rehoboam consulted the young men, and they advised that he should meet the people in a hostile spirit. Rehoboam's reply was: "My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke; my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." This violent reply to a conciliatory approach was answered by the cry: "What portion have we in David? ... To your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David." Then came the revolt, and the seceding tribes lost no time in consolidating themselves into the kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam was the first king, and reigned twenty-two years. "When all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel." Rehoboam would have attacked his rival. He assembled a great army, amounting to "an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men which were warriors." The order for the attack was, however, withdrawn: "Return every man to his house: for this thing is from me." Rehoboam was thus left alone in ignoble solitude, and Jeroboam entered into the realisation of the promise "If thou wilt walk in my ways, and do that which is right in mine eyes, I will build thee a sure house." This was the message which God had sent to the prophet Ahijah. Jeroboam was ultimately defeated in an attack on Judah. He was defeated by Abijah king of Judah, and three border cities with their districts, Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephrain, were taken from him.
Nothing is said by the historian of the kings about the defeat of Jeroboam; he simply refers to the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel and mentions that Jeroboam reigned twenty-two years. Nadab was the second king of Israel, and he reigned two years, being altogether unfit to encounter the complicated difficulties of the position. Nadab was a man of no character, weaker even than Jeroboam, and he consequently sought to live if not an idle yet a self-indulgent life. Baasha was the third king of Israel, and he reigned four-and-twenty years. He was known throughout his country as a self-seeking usurper. Then came Elah, who reigned two years; and after him Zimri, fifth king of Israel, who reigned for one week only. Strictly speaking, Zimri never ruled over Israel; he simply reigned seven days in Tirzah, that is to say, he held the capital until the army had time to come from Gibbethon to take his place and establish Omri, who reigned twelve years. Then succeeded Ahab in a reign of twenty-two years; Ahaziah reigned two years; Jehoram, twelve; Jehu, twenty-eight; Jehoa-haz, seventeen; Joash, sixteen. Jeroboam II. reigned longer than any of them, certainly not less than forty-one years. Zachariah reigned six months; Shallum, one month; Menahem, ten years; Pekahiah, two years; Pekah, nearly thirty years; Hoshea, nine years. Hoshea was thus the nineteenth and last king of Israel. Hoshea was guilty of treason in attempting to treat with Egypt, an attempt which ended in his being cast into prison. It is a singular circumstance that Jeroboam the first king, and Hoshea the last king of Israel, both looked to Egypt for help. But Egypt could render no assistance as the king had neglected to pay his yearly tribute. We read: "The king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea." "Therefore" he "shut him up, and bound him in prison." As to the way, manner, or time, we know nothing. It is supposed that the imprisonment took place about the seventh year of Hoshea's reign. Though nominally continuing king for two or three years after his imprisonment, Hoshea disappears at this point, and is never heard of again. And "as for Samaria," the prophet says, "her king is cut off, as the foam upon the water" ( Hos 10:7 ), "utterly cut off," "in a morning" ( Hos 10:15 ). Samaria did indeed hold out for three years against the assaults of Assyria. The historian of the kings merely notes: "In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria." Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah refer to the subject in occasional graphic touches.
Among the kings of Judah we find Asa, who was the third king, of whom it is said "He did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father;" "his heart was perfect with the Lord all his days." Asa's career as king was long-continued, and during his one-and-forty years his success was distinctly above the average. Asa was known as a reformer, one who was determined to root out abominations of long standing, and to prove himself the implacable opponent of idolatry in every form. We shall find it noted of him that he did not spare even his mother Maacah in this matter of idolatry: he deposed her from the rank of queen-mother, struck down her idol, stamped it and burnt it, and strewed its ashes on the Kidron.
The reign of Jehoshaphat was memorable in the annals of Judah. His action has been summarised thus: "He appointed, or rather reappointed, minor courts of justice, removing abuses; he also organised superior courts of judicature for the final settlement of causes, both civil and ecclesiastical, throughout the cities of his kingdom; and established at the same time a supreme court of appeal in the capital. Thus there lay an appeal from the minor courts to the provincial, and from the provincial to the decision of the metropolitan court... neither did he neglect the army, but raised it to a state of great efficiency under five generals of distinction. The size of this army, indeed, is so great, reaching to the high figure of 1,160,000 men, that many good authorities have suspected that an error has crept into the numbers... of this army he made Jerusalem the headquarters; at the same time he fortified the fenced cities, making them garrison towns, and stationed a strong force on the northern frontier against the possibility of danger from that quarter: his reforms were thus threefold educational or religious, judicial, and military." Concerning Jehoshaphat we have this testimony in the book of Chronicles: "The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; but sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel."
In an evil hour Jehoshaphat entered into an alliance with Ahab, by permitting his son Jehoram to marry Athaliah, the wicked daughter of parents, if possible, still more wicked, namely, Ahab and Jezebel. The excuse for this alliance was supposed to be the growing kingdom of Syria, and the inevitable peril both to Israel and Judah. Jehoshaphat was succeeded by his son, Jehoram. From this point, for a time, the names of the two royal houses of Israel and Judah are identical: in Israel the names were Ahaziah and Jehoram; in Judah, Jehoram and Ahaziah. Jehoram reigned alone five years, and taking into account his associate reign with his father he reigned altogether eight years. His reign began with the shedding of blood, and it was brought to a termination by a foul disease. Jehoram's accession was marked by the murder of his six brothers, being no doubt instigated thereto by his wife Athaliah, in very deed a daughter of Jezebel.
The fifth king of Judah was Ahaziah. He reigned only one year, and his epitaph, if it may be so called, was written in these words "He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab." We read of him: "His mother was his counsellor to do wickedly. Wherefore he did evil in the sight of the Lord like the house of Ahab; for they were his counsellors after the death of his father to his destruction." Probably there is no ghastlier picture in all history than that a man should be seduced to his ruin, not by a stranger or an avowed enemy, but by the influence of his own mother. Athaliah attempted to usurp the throne. She attempted to raise a cry of treason when the young and legitimate king was brought forward. Proclamation was made amidst tumultuous cheering and blowing of trumpets, the Levites and the people emulating one another in shouting, "God save the king:" Athaliah rent her robes, and cried out, "Treason, Treason:" but no answer came back to that cry of despair. Borne away into the Kidron valley, the fatal blow was delivered, and the career of the wicked woman was dramatically closed.
When the appalling career of Ahab and Jezebel was thus brought to an end, the youthful Joash was placed on the ancestral throne, and Jehoiada was regent during his minority. Joash was the one surviving descendant of David. Again and again we have seen how brittle became the thread on which the divine government seemed to be suspended. At this time everything would appear to have depended upon the life of the child Joash. But man's extremity, we are often told, is God's opportunity; the frail life was spared and sustained, and so the lamp of David's house ceased not to burn. Along with the royal restoration came the revival of the priestly order in the person of Jehoiada. Joash made himself infamous by the stoning of Zechariah between the temple and the altar. The Bible comment is this: "He remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son." Jesus Christ refers to the event thus: "From the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah who was slain between the temple and the altar." Asa had imprisoned a prophet; Amaziah had imposed silence upon religious teachers; but Joash alone completed this hostile policy by a deed of blood. But the Lord's hand was heavy upon Joash. In his person the first deed of regicide in the kingdom of Judah was accomplished, for two of his own servants slew the king in the bed where he lay sick. When Amaziah came to the throne his first act was to avenge the death of his father. In attempting to regain the province of Edom, Amaziah made great efforts and sacrifices. But the victory cost him too much, if we have regard to its moral consequences. Amaziah brought home the idols of the Edomites, and he actually bowed down to those idols, though he had seen how powerless they were to help their creators and worshippers. Having changed his faith, the whole course of Amaziah was changed also. The end soon came on. The armies of Israel and Judah met at Beth-shemesh, where Amaziah was defeated, and whence he was brought back a prisoner to Jerusalem. Amaziah survived his defeat fifteen years, falling at last a victim to a conspiracy formed by his own subjects, being assassinated at Lachish, after a reign of nearly thirty years. The same fatality thus attended both the son and the father, Amaziah and Joash. Their morning was bright and full of promise, but apostasy set in; the prophet's remonstrances were rejected and contemned, and conspiracy was left to work out its evil purpose.
No sooner was Amaziah murdered than the people arose enthusiastically on behalf of his son: "All the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king." Uzziah, called also Aza-riah, reigned fifty-two years, the longest reign except Manasseh's, and the most successful except Jehoshaphat's since the disruption. Uzziah was trained under Zechariah, a prophet not to be mistaken for the priest of the same name who was martyred in the reign of Joash. "He sought God in the days of Zechariah... and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper." A very beautiful picture of the prosperity which attended the reign of Uzziah is given in the second chapter of Isaiah: "their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land also is full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots." At home and abroad Uzziah was equally successful. Again, however, we come upon the melancholy fact that success turned the head of the king. In the hour of his pride he intruded into the priest's office; he offered incense, and repeated the transgression of Korah and his company. To the splendours of royalty he sought to add the dignities of priesthood. Suddenly, like lightning from heaven, Uzziah was struck with leprosy, the burning spot showing itself in his forehead. For ever he was shut out from the temple, dwelling in a house of liberation, and when he was buried it was not in the sepulchres of the kings, but in a common ground of sepulture. The reign of Uzziah was marked by many calamities, as well as by many successes. In his reign there was a plague of locusts, and in his reign there was an earthquake, so severe that it was known as pre-eminently the earthquake. We are told that this earthquake formed a sort of chronological era by which time was reckoned. Thus Amos speaks of his prophetic call as two years before the earthquake; while allusions to its shocks and their consequences, the huge clefts, the upheavals, the undulations, the sea bursting its barriers, tinge deeply the prophetic language of that day. Even three centuries afterwards the prophet of the captivity refers to that same earthquake, and the terror which it inspired, in the following terms: "Yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah." Jotham was Uzziah's successor. He reigned six years as regent, and sixteen years as king. Jotham "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah did." Jotham built the high gate of the temple, and so protected it against attack on the north side; he strengthened Moriah in the south; and in the whole country of Judah he built cities, and in the forests he erected castles as places of fortification. To Jotham succeeded Ahaz, who came to the throne when he was twenty years old, and reigned sixteen years. To Ahaz belongs the unhappy pre-eminence of being the worst of all the kings that had reigned in Judah. Day by day he went from bad to worse; at the end apostatising absolutely from the national religion, cutting off the borders of the stands on which the lavers rested, removing the brazen sea from the oxen, altering or removing the royal covert, and destroying the vessels of the sanctuary; finally shutting up the temple and abolishing its service. Ahaz was finally reduced to the position of a vassal, and, was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the sepulchres of the kings.
Under Hezekiah, the pious son of an impious father, who came to the throne at the age of twenty-five, there was a revival of true religion. Hezekiah began by reopening the temple and repairing its doors, restoring the worship of Jehovah, and replacing the priests and Levites in their courses. The king being godly, the priests immediately purified themselves. The time occupied in cleansing the temple was sixteen days, eight days were required for the cleansing of the court up to the porch, and eight more were needed for the cleansing of the temple proper. It was soon proposed to celebrate the great Passover, a ceremony which was kept on a grand scale. Israel and Judah were alike invited to take part in its celebration. Some mocked the suggestion, Ephraim openly laughed it to scorn; yet divers of Asher and Manasseh and Zebulun, and many even from Ephraim and Issachar, came to observe the sacred feast. The usual time assigned to the celebration of the Passover was seven days, but such was the enthusiasm of the people that it was continued for fourteen days, the second seven days being voluntary, and the king and the princes supplied the people with victims for sacrifices. Hezekiah had no sympathy with idolatry: he made it known that his determination was to root it out of his dominions. He brake in pieces the brazen serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness, and stigmatised it as "a mere piece of brass." After destruction came reconstruction; the courses of the priests and Levites were reappointed; order was given for their proper payment out of the tithes and firstfruits, and he himself set an example of liberality by large contributions for the sacrificial service. An illness of an inflammatory nature befell Hezekiah and brought him to the very door of death; but his life was miraculously prolonged fifteen years in answer to prayer. Soon after his recovery, Hezekiah received congratulatory letters from the king of Babylon, a congratulation which had a disastrous end, so far as Judah was concerned; the Babylonians were not moved by sympathy only, but by an ulterior purpose. He gave hospitable reception to the representatives of Merodach-Baladan, and displayed all his treasures to them, an exhibition of vanity which called forth the severest rebuke of the prophet, who told him that all these treasures would be carried as spoil to Babylon, and that his sons would have to serve in the palace of the Babylonian king. Hezekiah died in the twenty-ninth year of his reign. Then came Manasseh, and Josiah, and Shallum, and others of inferior name, the incidents of whose reigns will be remarked upon in their proper places.
Almighty God, may we know that everything is settled in heaven. May we be delivered from the folly of thinking that we can do anything permanently against God. Thou hast given us liberty, but it is with bounds. Thou dost set a watch over us. Thou hast said unto the sea, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and so thou hast said to every soul of man. We boast of our liberty, but it is only liberty to obey. There is an appointed time to man on the earth. Thou dost fix the bounds of our habitation; thou dost command thy lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night thy song is with us. We cannot cause the sun to rise or to set, or the rain to fall, or the wind to blow: we cannot reach beyond the limit which thou hast assigned. Help us to accept this liberty as a sphere to work in, to suffer in, and a sphere in which to show the simplicity and beauteousness of obedience. Blessed are they who accept thy will, and work in harmony with thy law, and never attempt to invent any statutes for themselves, but wisely, lovingly, hopefully, read thy book, and embody the same in useful conduct We will be mindful of thee in all the walk of our daily life. Every morning thou hast raised us from the death of sleep, every day thou hast accompanied us through the flying hours, and again hast thou set stars above our resting-place and appointed thine angels to keep sentinels over us in the time of darkness. Our table thou hast spread, thou hast set summer in the midst of winter, green flowers in the snow for us, yea thou hast not withheld from us any good thing. Thou hast told us what to do in the time when our consciousness of sin amounts to agony: thou hast charged the unrighteous man to forsake his thoughts, and to give himself by repentance and faith to the living God, and he will abundantly pardon. Thou hast set before us the way of salvation. It is no dream of ours. Oftentimes we recoil from it in moments of pride and self-sufficiency. But this is the way of the Lord, this is the decree of heaven, this is the way by which men may return to an abandoned position. Lord, now we know it we say: It is well, it is right, it is the necessity of law, and it is the necessity of love; God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ May each be enabled to say, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Then shall our joy be full, our life shall be a patient waiting for life fuller still. O Christ of God, thou didst come that men might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly wave upon wave of life; may we know our life to be a daily increasing quantity, a daily multiplying joy. The Lord hear us in the day of trouble, and make our tears precious. The Lord sanctify our pain, so that our distress may become a means of grace. The Lord guide us by his counsel, and afterwards receive us to glory. Amen.
the First Week of Advent