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CRITICAL NOTES.] This chapter is peculiar to the writer of Chronicles. Jehoshaphat becoming king takes measures for defence of his kingdom (2 Chronicles 17:1-9); in consequence grows in power (2 Chronicles 17:10-19).
2 Chronicles 17:1-6.—Jehoshaphat’s measures for defence. Strengthened, prepared to resist, to defend against attack from northern kingdom. 2 Chronicles 17:2. Garrisons or governors (cf. 1 Kings 4:7-19), all fortresses filled with troops, military stations established in various parts of the country and in cities of Mount Ephraim which belonged to Jehoshaphat (ch. 2 Chronicles 15:8). 2 Chronicles 17:3. First, ancient imitated piety of his great ancestor in early part of his reign. Baalim in contrast with the God of his father, idol deities generally (Judges 2:11). 2 Chronicles 17:4. Doings of Israel. Special idolatrous customs of northern kingdom at the time and the worship of the calves. 2 Chronicles 17:5. Presents, freewill offerings, not ordinary taxes paid to royal treasury. “Some reason to believe that a ‘benevolence’ of this kind was expected as a matter of course at the accession of a new sovereign” [Speak. Com.]. 2 Chronicles 17:6. Lifted up, not proud (chs. 2 Chronicles 26:16; 2 Chronicles 32:25); exalted by the ways of Jehovah (marg.), was encouraged, emboldened by a sense of Divine favour and ventured on reforms.
2 Chronicles 17:7-11.—Moral measures. Princes, extraordinary commissioners and priests along with them. A deputation of five princes, nine Levites assisted by two priests, took a copy of the law with them, sent on tour in towns of Judah to give religious instruction to the people. 2 Chronicles 17:9-11. Presents, Philistines tributaries or wishing to become such; Arabians, nomad tribes on south of Dead Sea, sought protection and paid tribute in cattle.
2 Chronicles 17:12-19.—Jehoshaphat’s greatness and prosperity. Castles, places of defence situated for protection of roads, or valleys opening into the country (ch. 2 Chronicles 27:4). Store, cities for keeping ammunition and provisions in preparation of siege. Business, much labour also expended on old “cities of Judah,” besides building and fortifying other places. 2 Chronicles 17:14-19. “Whenever a census was taken among Israelites, the numbering was by tribes and families. Hence the expression in text, which occurs thirteen times in first chapter of Numbers” [Speak. Com.]. Captains, princes of thousands, highest officers in command. Three of them, Adnah the highest post. By the side of him who commanded largest division, Jehohanan and Amaziah had command of 280,000 and 200,000 men. 2 Chronicles 17:16. Amaz. a volunteer, or by an act of his own devoted himself to the service of Jehovah. Light-armed and heavy-armed troops waited on the king. “These numbers have been with good reason regarded as corrupt by most critics. They cannot be successfully defended either as probable in themselves or as in harmony with the other statements of the military force, or of the population, contained in our author” [Speak. Com.]. Others account for the numbers by including every one fit to bear arms in time of peace pursuing their daily callings; auxiliaries from tributary Philistines and Arabs; and all who on religious grounds attached themselves to the kingdom of Judah [cf. Murphy].
JEHOSHAPHAT’S GOOD BEGINNING.—2 Chronicles 17:1-19
Natural for Jehoshaphat to succeed his father, but in defending his kingdom ne indicated a policy; in rising above his surroundings, resisting prevalent customs, and introducing reforms he made a good beginning. Taking the chapter as a sketch—
I. Jehoshaphat’s natural defences. Jehoshaphat “strengthened himself against Israel.” During Asa’s decay Ahab acted with vigour. Israel getting a formidable kingdom, needful for Jehoshaphat to bestir himself and maintain his own. This done not by league and bribe, but in natural, just, and quiet method against possible attack. A prudent man foresees the evil and prepares for it. The tempers of men must be watched, the threatening of the times met, and weak places should be strengthened and guarded. To ignore inevitable tendencies, to act without foresight and preparation, most ruinous.
II. Jehoshaphat’s moral reforms. He cared for the spiritual welfare as well as for the outward security of the kingdom. Anxious to restore the worship of Jehovah, to instruct the people, and to administer justice (2 Chronicles 19:5).
1. Reforms springing from personal piety. He himself upright and sincere in serving God. A man of foresight and reverence, of deep conviction and uncompromising principle. One who felt God’s presence more needful than garrisons in cities and forces on land.
2. Reforms displaying zeal against idolatry. He walked “not after the doings of Israel” (2 Chronicles 17:4), was dead against calf worship, strictly adhered to Divine enactments, removed monuments, and destroyed groves which disgraced the land, and almost entirely cleansed it from idolatry (2 Chronicles 20:33).
3. Reforms connected with the instruction of the people. A commission of education was formed, equipped, and sent “about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people” (2 Chronicles 17:9). Kings and princes help a nation, not by stifling inquiry, attempting to force opinion and punishing heterodoxy; but by spreading education, encouraging virtue, and exalting God’s word. Nations who receive this word most tolerant and intelligent, most philanthropic and exalted.
III. Jehoshaphat’s consequent prosperity and honour. In personal conduct separated alike from gross idolatry and Israelitish apostasy; in government ruling in the fear of God, and for the good of his subjects, “the Lord stablished the kingdom in his hand.”
1. At home peace and plenty. His people loyal and submissive, voluntary, offerings abundant—”riches and honour” without stint.
2. Abroad security and honour. None disturbed his peaceful reign, hostile peoples bowed before him, the tributes of nations poured into his treasury, and the fear of God “fell upon all the kingdoms” with its restraining influence.
JEHOSHAPHAT’S UPRIGHTNESS.—2 Chronicles 17:3-4
Jehoshaphat expressly commended for integrity, even when condemned for his sin (2 Chronicles 19:3). This corresponds with his conduct at beginning of his reign, and the continuance of his uprightness after sad and untoward events.
I. A man’s character is determined by his relation to God. He acknowledged and “sought the Lord God of his father.” In some relation all stand to God, and according to conduct, not creed, profession nor opinion, moral character and condition determined.
II. A man’s character and course of life are specially observed by God. David’s life described in parts, each part under God’s inspection. Youth, manhood, and old age; relapses and restorations known to him. Scripture lives detected, impartially given in temptations, failings, and virtues. “Thou, O Lord, knowest me: thou hast seen me and tried mine heart toward (with) thee” (Jeremiah 12:3).
III. The latter part of a man’s life may be worse than the first part. “The first ways of his father David.” A contrast between the earlier and the latter days of David, who relapsed and dishonoured in character. Age should bring wisdom, honour, and meetness for eternity. The seed ripens for the crop. Youth grows into maturity, and the student should give the accomplished scholar. Sad to deteriorate in life (Solomon, Jehoshaphat, &c.). “Sad when you have to go back to a man’s youth to find his virtues, or his most conspicuous excellences; but most beautiful when a man’s earlier mistakes are lost in the richness and wisdom of his later conduct” [Parker].
IV. The good only and not the evil in a man’s life should be imitated. Jehoshaphat walked in the godly ways of David; customary and easier to follow the evil. Multitudes and fashions influence; men naturally prone to the inferior and to forget the lofty and spiritual. The universal influence of bad examples presupposes a universal readiness to yield to it. “Be ye therefore followers (Greek, imitators) of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1).
“Presume not that I am the thing I was,
For I have turned away my former self,
So will I those that keep me company” [Shakes.].
THE TEACHING COMMISSION.—2 Chronicles 17:6-9
This a counterpoise to influences which had degraded Judah, and a continuation of Asa’s reaction. These men employed eminently useful, though otherwise unknown.
I. The persons which composed the commission. Officers of court and camp, of civil and religious authority.
1. The princes. A deputation of five to represent civil and constitutional government.
2. The Levites. Nine in number to instruct in ritual and temple service.
3. The priests. Two to explain the nature and enforce the duties of religion. The commission not warriors nor revolutionists, but reformers and revivalists. To educate the people in their duty to God, the king, and to each other.
II. The work which the commission had to perform. Educational and religious.
1. To teach the people. “They taught in Judah” (2 Chronicles 17:9). Education required to chase away superstition, ensure just legislation, develop the energies, and alleviate the condition of the people.
2. To expound the word. “The book of the law” with them. God’s law their text-book and authority. The command of the prince, the creed of the priest, and the ritual of the Levite not to displace God’s word. A law above man, a book more than human to appeal to: a written statute, an authoritative declaration, a final revelation to which to call men’s attention. “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
III. The effects which followed the work of the commission. The nation improved, reformed, and greatly blessed.
1. In outward prosperity. Peace and prosperity enjoyed; insurrections and wars prevented; unbroken opportunities for pursuit of education and commerce.
2. In moral character. People taught the law of God, returned to religious ways and worship. God’s presence their defence and dignity (2 Chronicles 17:10). Such the effect of the Bible at all times. Its principles tend to civilise and elevate, reform and refine. It is the foe of oppression, the protector of the weak, and the Magna Charta of true liberty. What the boasted civilisation of ancient or modern nations without the Bible! Judge Bible teaching by its fruits! Everywhere it justifies its existence and claims. Its itinerant ministry and popular teaching in the providence of God has preserved this country from revolutions and wars amid the ruins and dissolutions of European nations!
JEHOSHAPHAT’S GREATNESS.—2 Chronicles 17:12-19
I. In the extent of his possessions. “Castles and cities of store,” places for victuals and arms. “He had much business,” undertakings of religion, preparations for peace and war. A great kingdom and great responsibilities committed to his care.
II. In the vastness of his army. The warriors arranged in the army according to their father’s houses. Consisted of five unequal divisions, comprised 1,160,000 men, without including those who garrisoned the fortresses. No monarch, since the time of Solomon, equalled Jehoshaphat in the extent of his revenue, in the strength of his fortifications, and the number of his troops [Jamieson].
III. In the skill of his captains. Five great generals, loyal in spirit, mighty in valour, and ready for any undertaking. “These waited on the king” (2 Chronicles 17:19).
“There is not a sovereign in Europe or in the world, but might read this chapter with advantage.
1. It shows most forcibly that true religion is the basis of the state; and that wherever it prospers, there the state prospers.
2. It shows also, that it is the wisdom of kings to encourage religion with all their power and influence; for if the hearts of the subjects be not bound and influenced by true religion, vain is the application of laws, fines, imprisonments, or corporal punishment of any kind.
3. A religious nation is ever a great nation; it is loved by its friends, it is dreaded by its enemies.
4. It is ever a peaceful and united nation: the blessings of religion, and a wholesome and paternal government, are so fully felt and prized, that all find it their interest to preserve and defend them. Harmony, peace, piety, and strength are the stability of such times. May Britain know and value them!” [A. Clarke].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
2 Chronicles 17:4-6. Jehoshaphat’s religion.
1. Practical in its possession. Not formal, complimentary, nor expedient for the times. A man of deep conviction, courage, and generous patriotism. If the end had only been as beginning, almost a complete character!
2. Earnest in its nature. He “sought” earnestly and constantly “the Lord God of his father.”
3. Prominent in its testimony. For eighteen years—contemporary with Ahab and Jezebel, the period of Baalism in Israel—firm and faithful, “sought not unto Baalim.”
4. Self-denying in its example. “Not after the doings of Israel,” fashionable and prevalent; but “lifted up” in conformity to God and delight in God’s service.
The working hand and the happy heart. The chief things for a traveller on such a pilgrimage as ours is a right goal before him, the right road before him, the right impulse within him. The chief thoughts of which we are here reminded are:
1. Religion pervading our life—the Lord.
2. Activity pervading our religion—the ways.
3. Cheerfulness pervading our activity [Christian Treasury, 1859].
2 Chronicles 17:7-11. The royal edict. I. We notice the edict of king Jehoshaphat:
1. Mark the benevolence displayed in it;
2. Its policy was not inferior to its benevolence;
3. The benefits arising from it were incalculable. II. The manner in which it was carried into execution. This suggests—
1. That loyalty to the king demands our concurrence with him in his good work;
2. That gratitude to the Jewish nation demands it at our hands;
3. A love to the rising generation should lead us to avail ourselves of the present opportunity to promote their welfare;
4. That a concern for the honour of our holy religion should operate to unite us all in executing the royal edict [C. Simeon, M.A.].
2 Chronicles 17:13. Business, which he performed diligently, personally, and thoroughly. “Many works (LXX.) going forward at once; a negotious man was he. His business, say some, lay in beautifying and fortifying those cities. Augustus gloried at his death, that whereas he had found Rome built with brick, he had left it made of marble [Trapp].
2 Chronicles 17:16. Willingly offered himself. The volunteer—
1. Religious in spirit. Recognition of “the Lord.”
2. Resolute in arms. The vows of God upon him.
3. Valiant in service. Like ancient votaries in Mohammedan armies, never known to return home without victory. “The people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.”
“He always wins who sides with Thee,
To him no chance is lost;
Thy will is sweetest to him, when
It triumphs at his cost” [F. W. Faber].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 17
2 Chronicles 17:3-5. The Lord with him, stablished the kingdom, &c. God is the only source of stability as infinite, absolute, and changeless. He gives stability to his word, church, and people. “In the great hand of God I stand” [Shakespeare].
2 Chronicles 17:7-9. The book of the law. The influence of the Bible has been very efficient towards the introduction of a better and more enlightened sense of right and justice among the several governments of Europe. It taught the duty of benevolence to strangers, of humanity to the vanquished, of the obligation of good faith, of the sin of murder, revenge, and rapacity. The history of Europe, during the earlier periods of modern history, abounds with interesting and strong cases to show the authority of revelation over turbulent princes and fierce warriors, and the effect of that authority in meliorating manners, checking violence, and introducing a system of morals which inculcate peace, moderation, and justice [Chancellor Kent].
2 Chronicles 17:13. Much business. Nothing is denied to well-directed labour; nothing is ever to be attained without it [Sir Joshua Reynolds]. All sorts of mischiefs happen to unoccupied professors of religion; there is no evil from which they are secure. Better would it be for them to accept the lowest occupation for the Lord Jesus than remain the victims of inaction [Spurgeon].
“Troubles spring from idleness,
And grievous toils from needless ease”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20