Some Lessons From the Chronicles (part 3)
Harry Lacey, Cardiff
In the Scriptures men are occasionally likened to trees, and influences that affect them to winds that blow, swaying them, now this way, now that. The figure illustrates the way in which The Chronicles identify for us things that affected the rulers of Israel whose lives are reviewed therein. Certain things helped them to discharge worthily their responsibility in regard to the Lord's house; other things tended to declension and even to apostacy. This identification of influences is especially helpful in the way it connects cause and effect, though the process be spread over more generations than one. It reveals also that things, not apparently serious, involve serious consequences for subsequent generations.
Solomon and Rehoboam
The opening chapters of the second book (especially by their omission of any reference to the failure of Solomon during the latter years of his reign) seem to form an intentional contrast between Solomon and his son and successor Rehoboam, and between the things that made them what they each were. The humility, deep exercise of heart and dependence upon God of the father stands reprovingly in the account against the lack of preparation, apparent pride of position and seeming high-handedness of the son,
A ruler in Israel was expected to give himself to serious occupation with the Law of the Lord. Upon coming to the throne he was required to make with his own hand a copy of the Scriptures (Deut. 17. 18-20). Such a discipline would be of incalculable benefit and become his means of studying for himself the Word of God, and of thus coming to fear the Lord. But of Rehoboam it is said that he " prepared not his heart to seek the Lord" (2 Chron. 12. 14). This resulted in amateurish handling of the affairs of the Lord and ultimate defection (2 Chron, 12. 1). Being forty years of age when he came to the throne, he had had ample time to learn the ways of God, but it seems that he had wasted much valuable time, for when responsibility fell upon his shoulders it found him unequal to it. The condition of his heart savoured of pride of place. His sense of judgment was defective and lies seemed to lack real heart for God's people. His incompetence, through failure to fit him for kingship, wrought havoc, which all the centuries since have never completely remedied.
The shepherding of God's people, whether in the bygone days of Israel's kingdom or in the subsequent times of Christian churches, is the highest task outside of heaven, and it calls for a heaven-born fitness if it is to be discharged worthily. Such fitness is not acquired in a day. The repeated lessons in the knowledge of God and of His ways with men, taught through practical and personal experience of the Word of God in daily living, alone prepare men now, as then, to rule for God and to guide the affairs of His house. Those who lead in Christian churches are not to be " novices " (1 Tim. 3. 6). Even Timothy, after all his experience, was urged to be eager to present himself " approved to God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed " (2 Tim. 2. 15).
The childlikeness of Solomon and his request for wisdom to walk before the Lord and His people, betokened a state of heart that had due regard for these onerous responsibilities. A profound consciousness of the greatness of God seemed to characterize him; he had a due sense of the holiness of His house; and he realized the intricacy of the problems of handling the people of God.
His careful stewardship of what he inherited from his father for the work of the temple and his faithfulness in executing the design, fill the record to the exclusion of all else. The diligence he manifested in carrying out the work to its eventual dedication to the Lord give atmosphere to the review, and the spread of his fame and his prosperity complete it. It is important to observe that a compassionate silence about his defection, which is treated at some length in The Kings, is maintained in The Chronicles so that the lesson that it is with Divine wisdom only that men are able to build for God might remain undiminished. Solomon's concern to request, above every other possible thing, wisdom from God stands in sharp contrast to Rehoboam's self confidence and is thus set forth as the example to be followed by all those who assay to rule for God.
Though Rehoboam forsook the Law of the Lord, and all Israel with him, when lie humbled himself the wrath of the Lord turned from him. God is exceedingly gracious, and is in a position to manifest it to the contrite. Nevertheless, his record as we have it before us in The Chronicles demonstrates the baneful influence and serious danger of half-heartedness and inexperience.
Abijah and Jeroboam
The life of Abijah is more refreshing. The wealth and prestige of Solomon was not his; moreover God's people were now divided, and few remained true to the house of the Lord. The majority had turned away to a priesthood of man's making and to a rule, which was not after God's will. Nevertheless, his faithfulness to the principles of God's kingdom and nobility of spirit regarding them make the review of his life a relief after the disappointment of Rehoboam. He was as little overawed by the pretensions of Jeroboam and his followers, who had set up a way of their own in the affairs of God's people, as he was attracted to the apparent advantages of their worldly way. His convictions were real and had been fashioned upon the anvil of the facts of God's word and ways. His confidence in the Tightness and workableness of it all was unwavering, and his godly grit manifested in his stand for these things make him an example to emulate. To him what was contrary to God's word was sin, and though he was more compassionate to Rehoboam than even the chronicler (compare 13. 7 with 12. 14) he was intolerant of Jeroboam and all he stood for.
The way in which Jeroboam took a title, established priesthood and resorted to an order not prescribed in God's word has its obvious counterpart in Christendom in our day. Christ forbad the use of titles, which constitute those that bear them a class distinct from the rest of Christians (Mat. 23. 8-12), on account of the harm that results to the people of God. He forbad even His apostles to be called ' Rabbi,' which means ' My master," because it obscures from the vision of Christians that there is in reality but one Master or Teacher--Christ Himself. Those who teach are never teachers in their own right; they are but brethren of the same family, who hand on to their fellows the instruction that Christ gives them for others. At most they are channels. The use of the religious title ' father ' is deprecated because it deflects the gaze of men from the Invisible Father who fills the heavens to mere men upon the earth. Roman Catholic countries witness to the baneful effects of this. Christ alone is the One Leader of all His people. To own this, requires refusal of other religious leadership. It must be observed that those who are called guides or leaders in the Epistles are such only in so far as they show by example and teaching Christ's own leadership. But as soon as official positions and official titles intrude they begin to limit the range of men's vision and obscure the leadership of Christ.
It should be known more widely than it is, that the point of law on which Bunyan spent twelve long years in Bedford Jail was that he would neither ask for nor accept a " bishop's licence " to preach the gospel. He contended for the sovereign rights of Christ to raise up, and send forth to preach, whomsoever He would. Whilst those who preach and teach should be very jealous of the fellowship and prayers of godly men, the authority to commission and direct is all still in the hand of the Risen Lord. Men, who embark upon a path of service without the conviction of His call and preparation, rebel against His rule in a way similar to those who hinder any save those whom they ordain.
It was against these evils in principle that Abijah took his stand with godly grit and reliance upon God. We need to brace our hearts and charge our consciences on this point. With this spirit Abijah built upon a tradition that he was convinced came from God, and the Lord vindicated his endeavours so that he waxed mighty in his day.
Influences of other kinds are discernable in the subsequent reign of Asa. The main lesson seems to be the importance of balance between that which is positive and that, which is negative. He was not only strong in regard to the things he was against, but also in regard to the things for which he stood. Not only did he take away the strange altars and the high places and brake down the pillars and hew down the asherim, but he commanded Judah " to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to do the Law and the commandment " (2 Chron. 14. 2-5). To have removed the evils that had arisen would have been but to create a vacuum which Satan would soon have filled with malpractices of a different kind, and maybe, as the Lord Himself illustrated, the demon of former evils might have returned with seven worse than himself. This was the failure of Phariseeism. It swept the house of Judah clean of idolatry and garnished it, but left it empty of God and of Christ. Asa was wiser. Not only did he remove the evils, but he taught the people to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers. As ' the God of their fathers' the Lord is specially indicated as the One who makes Him known to men and women personally. Abraham became His friend. He was the One Isaac feared, and Jacob had dealing with Him in the closest and most personal fashion. Beyond the knowledge of the grace of God and yet by means of it, and beyond the knowledge of the will of God and yet still by means of it, is the knowledge of God Himself (see Col. 1. 6, 9 and 10), It is in the power of this that Christians really grow.
There is a danger of becoming occupied with that, which is wrong in the churches of the saints, and with the removal from them of what appears to be unsatisfactory. It is well to remember that the cultivation of good growth contributes to the limitation of evil ones. No one will credit a gardener who is content only to remove weeds. The local assembly is God's cultivated place. Let us, without minimizing our convictions against evils, disdain occupation with them and concentrate our powers upon the cultivation of those features that are well pleasing to God. Paul's ambition for his ministry was distinctly positive. It was to present every man perfect in Christ. He did not accept fatalistically the purpose of God to present believers holy, blameless and unimpeachable before the Godhead. The truth became the impetus of his service. In the power of its realization he laboured and strove unremittingly. His example, as it is illustrated by the life of Asa, is to be the ideal of every true elder. Less than which can scarcely be worthy of those who take the lead in God's churches.
It is remarked in this ' bema of God of the Old Testament ' that Israel had been without a teaching priest. This seems intended to show that the absence of ministry contributed to a state of declension. It is ever necessary for men to stir themselves up to feed and care for their fellow believers. Only as Timothy would put the brethren in mind of the things he had learned would he be regarded as a good servant of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 4. 6 and 12-16). There is constant need for men to labour at the Scriptures and to strive to impart with the grace of Christ and the freshness of the Holy Ghost the instruction, nourishment and counsel of the Holy Oracles of God. Even deacons in the New Testament labour in the Word and doctrine; it is imperative that overseers should (1 Tim. 3. 2; Tit. 1. 9). Timothy was enjoined to commit to faithful men who were competent to teach others, that precious deposit of truth he himself enjoyed (2 Tim. 2. 2). Our aversion to clerisy ought not to result in underrating competency in handling the Scriptures. There is a God-given skill for imparting help to the Lord's people. Those who lack it entirely are not shepherds in the New Testament sense. It is still with propriety that the best gifts are to be coveted, and seeing that apostles and prophets are no longer with us it follows that the gift of shepherd and teacher is paramount (see 1 Cor. 12. 28-31 and Eph. 4. 11-12, R.V.). The cultivation and use of it must be lived for, even though most, like Carey, " cobble boots to pay expenses." The need of resident shepherds seems to be a challenge to all young men who love the Lord Jesus. It is as if Christ were saying to us all again, " Lovest thou me?"- Then-" Feed My sheep."