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This chapter commences Asa's long reign of forty-one years. Asa was son of Abijah and grandson of Maachah (2 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Kings 15:13). The reign was remarkable for the devotion of Asa to the true God, and for the signal successes given to him in consequence, but it did not reach its end without a mournful defection on Asa's part from trust in God (2 Chronicles 16:2-4, 2 Chronicles 16:12), which entailed its reward (2 Chronicles 16:9), and which has left tarnished for all ages a fame that would otherwise have been fairest among all the kings of Judah. The disjointed and grudging parallel to the forty-eight verses of this and the following two chapters respecting Asa, in Chronicles, is comprised within the sixteen verses only of 1 Kings 15:8-24.
2 Chronicles 14:1
Buried … in the city of David (see our note, 2 Chronicles 12:16). Asa his son. If, according to the suggestion of our note, 2 Chronicles 10:8 and 2 Chronicles 12:13, the alleged forty-one years of the age of Rehoboam be made twenty-one, it will follow that Asa could not now be more than a boy of some twelve years of age. It is against that suggestion that there is no sign of this, by word or deed, in what is here said of the beginning of Asa's reign; the signs are to the contrary, especially taking into the question the indications given us respecting the tendencies, if not contradicted, of the queen-mother Maachah (2 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Kings 15:13), and it is not supposable that a boy of twelve years of age could contradict them. This point must be held still moot. In his days … quiet ten years. No doubt one cause of this was the defeat that Jeroboam and Israel had sustained at the hands of Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:18-20). It appears also, from 1 Kings 15:19, that after that defeat a league was instituted between Abijah and the then King of Syria: "There is a league between me and thee, and between my father and thy father." And these things, with Israel's new kings, and perhaps Asa's extreme youth, would have favoured the repose of the land.
2 Chronicles 14:2
That which was good and right. Our Authorized Version does not omit to mark the first three words with italic type, the simple and emphatic original being, the good and the straight.
2 Chronicles 14:3
The altars of the strange (gods); Hebrew, the altars of the stranger, meaning, of course, "the altars of the gods of the stranger." This expression, "strange gods," is found in the Authorized Version about thirteen times for the Hebrew גֵכָר, or הַגֵּכָר, and would be most correctly rendered, "The gods [or, 'god'] of the stranger," i.e. of the foreigner, as it is rendered in the solitary instance of Deuteronomy 31:16. The high places. Comp. Deuteronomy 31:5 and 2 Chronicles 15:17, which says, "But the high places were not taken away out of Israel;" and 1 Kings 15:14, which says, "But the high places were not removed," without limiting this non-removal to "of Israel." On the question of this apparent inconsistency and surface-contradiction, see our Introduction, §7, pp. 16.1 and 17.2. Further, it may here be well distinctly to note how little is even the apparent discrepancy or contradiction alleged in this subject, throwing in the analogous passages in Jehoshaphat's history (2 Chronicles 17:6; 2 Chronicles 20:33), in case these may reflect any light on the question. Firstly, we will remove out of our way the parallel in 1 Kings 15:14, with the observation that it is evident from its immediate context that it corresponds with the last statement of our Chronicles (2 Chronicles 15:17), savouring of a retrospective summarizing of the compiler, not with the first statements (2 Chronicles 14:3, 2 Chronicles 14:5), which set forth Asa's prospective purpose of heart, his resolution, and, no doubt, his edicts. Secondly, we may notice that there is a plain-enough distinction made by the writer in 1 Kings 15:3 and 1 Kings 15:5 respectively—the one saying that Asa "took away the high places," without any further limitation; the other saying within two verses, "Also out of all the cities of Judah" (note by the way here the suggestive stress laid upon "the cities," possibly as more easily coped with than country districts) "he took away the high places." The only legitimate inference (taking into account both the words used, and the fact that the last written are found close upon the former, with the significant conjunction "also") must be that some different information was intended in the two places. 1 Kings 15:3 finds Asa as much master of "Judah" as 1 Kings 15:5. Therefore the natural interpretation of 1 Kings 15:3 must be that Asa at once abolished "the high places" nearest home, nearest Jerusalem, most within his own personal reach; then "also" that he did and ordered the same to be done in "all the cities of Judah," and it was done at the time, if only for the time. Thirdly, include the statement of 2 Chronicles 15:17, if we do not insist (as we might insist very fairly when pressed on a point of alleged inconsistency or contradiction) on the fact that now the high places "of Israel" arc distinctly designated, and that therein those outlying parts of Asa's more or less acknowledged sway outside of Judah and his thoroughest control are designedly described, let us instead take the help of an exactly analogous (and analogously alleged) discrepancy (2 Chronicles 17:7 compared with 2 Chronicles 20:33), and we find there that the very key with which to unlock the difficulty is provided to our hand. Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:6) "took away the high places;" "the people" (2 Chronicles 20:33) did not faithfully and with a constant heart follow suit, but had failed to prepare, i.e. to turn "their hearts unto the God of their fathers." How well the juxtaposition of these very words would tell, nay, do tell, with the emphatic words of 1 Kings 15:14! "Nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord all his days;" and with our 2 Chronicles 15:17, "Nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days." In both these passages the antithesis is patent between Asa's heart and the people's hearts, between Asa's "all his days" and the people's uncertainty and apostasy. The fidelity of Bible history and its non-cunningly, non-fabulously devised tenor are gratefully corroborated by the inquisition made into such a supposed "discrepancy,"" inconsistency," "contradiction." Notice once more the confirming indication, so far as it goes, of the one verb that commands the next verse, as there noted upon. Brake down the images; Hebrew, מַחֵּבוֹת. It occurs in the Authorized Version thirty-two times, and is rendered "pillar" or "pillars" twelve times; "image" or "images" nineteen times; and "garrisons" once. It appears simply to have slipped from the signification of pillar into the rendering of the word "image," by aid of the intermediate word "statue." It is used of the pillar or statue of Baal in 2 Kings 3:2; 2 Kings 10:26, 2 Kings 10:27, with his name expressed; and in 2 Chronicles 18:4; 2 Chronicles 23:14, without that name expressed. Cut down the groves; Hebrew, וַיְגַדַּע אֶת־הָאֲשֵׁרִים. The verb here used implies the "cutting," "cutting down," "pruning" of trees. It is undoubtedly applied also to other cutting and cutting down, as of the "breaking" of a red (Zechariah 11:10), of an arm (1 Samuel 2:31), of horns (Jeremiah 48:25), of bars or bolts (Isaiah 45:2). It occurs in all twenty-three times. It is here employed to describe the destroying of what according to the Authorized Version arc called "groves"—a word which with little doubt misleads for the rendering of our אֲשֵׁרִים. Before this same word we have also another Hebrew verb for "cutting," of very frequent occurrence in its simple and metaphorically derived uses included, viz. כָּרַת. The first uses of this verb with the above word are found in Judges 6:25, Judges 6:26, Judges 6:30. That word means literally "fortune," but in its ultimate derivation "straightness," and hence supposed to designate, in Phoenician and Aramaean idolatry, Astarte or the planet Venus, who is constantly associated in such idolatry with Baal (Judges 3:7). But see for the first occurrence of the word, Exodus 34:13, where there is no express mention of Baal, but where the idolatries of the Amorite, Canaanite, Hittite, Hivite, Perizzite, and Jebusite are being spoken of. When we take into consideration the probable ultimate derivation of the word, the fact of the verbs that speak of "cutting" being uniformly applied to what it represents, the "burning" to which this was condemned (Judges 6:26) when cut down, and a series of statements that represent it as "set up under every green tree" (1Ki 14:23; 2 Kings 17:10; see also 1Ki 15:13; 2 Kings 21:7; 2 Kings 23:6; 2 Chronicles 15:16), it not only becomes perfectly certain that "grove" and "groves" cannot rightly render the word, but directs us with the light of those passages that speak of it coupled with Baal as an object of worship, and that speak of prophet and priest called by its name (Judges 3:7 (compared with Judges 2:13; Judges 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4); 1Ki 18:19; 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Kings 23:4), to the strong conviction that it should be at once written with a capital letter, and rendered as a proper name; that it may possibly be a synonym with Ashtoreth, 1.q. Astarte, or a representation in wooden pillar, stock or trunk fashion, of some supposed aspect of her passion or dominion, very likely in the voluptuous or sensual direction. Conder, in 'Handbook to the Bible,' p. 187, 2nd edit; speaks of "Baal-peor (Numbers 25:3) as identified by St. Jerome with the classical Priapus;" and adds "the Asherah (rendered 'grove' in our version) was also apparently a similar emblem" (2 Kings 23:7). The analogy of the sacred tree of the Assyrians sculptured on the monuments of Nineveh, which was probably a straight trunk or stock garlanded at certain times with ribbons and flowers, has been opportunely pointed to.
2 Chronicles 14:4
And commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers. What an indication lies couched in this word "commanded" (confirmatory of the spirit of what is said above, in our previous verse-note) of the moral efforts of Asa, and that the efforts on which he may have largely relied for "taking away the high places" were moral efforts, rather than those of physical force.
2 Chronicles 14:5
The images; Hebrew, חַמָּנֹים. The images spoken of here are, of coarse, not the same with those (noted upon already) of 2 Chronicles 14:3. The present khammanim are mentioned seven times beside, viz. Leviticus 26:30; 2 Chronicles 34:4, 2 Chronicles 34:7; Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 27:9; Ezekiel 6:4, Ezekiel 6:6. Gesenius says Khamman is an epithet of Baal as bearing rule over the sun (חַמָה, "heat," or "the sun"), in the oft-found compound expression, בַּעַל חַמָּן; he thinks the plural (חַמָּנִים), invariably found in the Old Testament, is short for בְּעָלִים חַמָּנִים. He does not agree with the translation of Haenaker, "sun-image" by aid of the word פֶסֶל understood, images said to have been of a pyramid form, and placed in the most sacred positions of Baal-temples. This, however, is the rendering adopted by not a few modern commentators (so 2 Chronicles 34:4). Gesenius would render "the Sun-Bard," or "the Sun-Lord," i.e. statues of the sun, representing a deity to whom (see ' Phoen. Inseript.') votive stones,were inscribed. In his 'Thesaurus' Gesenius instances the Phoenician inscriptions, as showing that our chemmanim denoted statues of both Baal, the sun-god, and Astarte, the moon-goddess.
2 Chronicles 14:6
He built fenced cities in Judah. Though it is not said so here, it is very probable that Asa did again the work of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:5-12) which Shishak had done so much to undo (2Ch 12:4, 2 Chronicles 12:5, 2 Chronicles 12:8).
2 Chronicles 14:7
We have sought him, and he hath given us rest. In three successive verses the blessings of peace and quiet, and no war and rest, are recorded (Isaiah 26:1; Zechariah 2:5).
2 Chronicles 14:8
The "ten years' quiet" (2 Chronicles 14:1) begins to see its end. Targets (2 Chronicles 9:15); spears (2 Chronicles 11:12); for both, see 1 Chronicles 12:24. Out of Benjamin … shields and … bows. The minuter coincidences of the history are very observable and very interesting; for see 1Ch 8:40; 1 Chronicles 12:2; and much earlier, Genesis 49:27; Judges 20:16, Judges 20:17.
2 Chronicles 14:9-15
The remaining seven verses of this chapter are occupied with the account of the invasion of Zerah the Ethiopian, and the successful defence and reprisals of Asa.
2 Chronicles 14:9
Zerah the Ethiopian; Hebrew, זֶרַח הַכּוּשִׁי, the "Ethiopian," Greek and Septuagint rendering for "Cushite." In its vaguest dimensions Ethiopia, or Cush, designated Africa south of Egypt, but more concisely it meant the lands we now call Nubia, Sennaar, Kordefan, and part of Abyssinia. And these, roughly speaking, were bounded north, south, east, and west respectively by Egypt and Syene, Abyssinia, Red Sea, and Libyan Desert. When, however, Ethiopia proper is spoken of, the name probably designates the kingdom of Meroe (Seba, Genesis 10:7; 1 Chronicles 1:9); and the Assyrian inscriptions make the Cushite name of the deified Nimrod one with Meroe), which was so closely associated at different times with Egypt, that sometimes an Egypt king swayed it (as e.g. some eighteen hundred years before Shishak, Sesostris fourth king of the twelfth dynasty), and sometimes vice versa (as e.g. the three Ethiopian kings of the twenty-fifth dynasty—Shabak (Sabakhou), Sethos (Sebechos), and Tarkos (Tirhakah), whose reigning dates as between Ethiopia and Egypt are not yet certified). The name thus confined covers an irregular circular bulk of country between "the modern Khartoum, where the Astapus joins the true Nile, and the influx of the Astaboras, into their united stream." From the language of Diodorus (1:23), harmonized conjecturally with Strabo (18:821), the region may be counted as 375 miles in circumference and 125 miles in the diameter of the erratic circle, its extreme south point being variously stated, distant from Syene, 873 miles (Pliny, 6.29. § 33); or, according to Mannert's book ('Geogr. d. Alt.,' 10.183), 600 miles by the assertion of Artemidorns, or 625 by that of Eratosthenes. Thence the "Cushite" extended probably to the Euphrates and the Tigris, and through Arabia, Babylonia, and Persia. Some, however, think that the Cushite now intended was the Ethiopian of Arabia, who had settlement near Gerar (Dr. Jamieson, in 'Comm.') as a nomadic horde. Dr. Jamieson quotes Bruce's 'Travels' to support this view, which seems a most improbable, not to say impossible, one nevertheless. The question as to the people intended will perhaps best be found in the solution of the question for whom the name of their king stands (see following note). Zerah. Hebrew as above. It is noteworthy that the four previous occurrences of this name—Genesis 36:13 and 1 Chronicles 1:37, son of Reuel, grandson of Esau; Genesis 38:30 and 1 Chronicles 2:6, son of Judah and Tumor; 1 Chronicles 4:24, son of Simeon; 1Ch 5:6, 1 Chronicles 5:26, Hebrew text, son of Iddo, a Gershonite Levite—show it as the name of an Israelite, or descendant of Shem. Our present Zerah is a Cushite, or descendant of Ham. The Septuagint forms of the name are Ζαρέ Ζαρά Ζαρές, or Ζαραέ Ζααραι, or (Alexandrian) Ἀκαρίας. Although Professor Dr. Murphy says that "it is plain that Zerah was a sovereign of Kush, who in the reign of Takeloth, about B.C. 944, invaded Egypt and penetrated into Asia," the balance of probability, both from the names themselves and the synchronisms of history, corroborated by the composition of Zerah's army (Cushim and Lubim, 2 Chronicles 16:8) and some other tributary considerations, is that our Zerah was Usarken II; the fourth king of the twenty-second dynasty (or possibly Usarken I; the second king of the dynasty). The invasion of the text was probably in Asa's fourteenth year, his reign thus far being dated B.C. 953-940. The alleged army of this Zerah was an Egyptian army, largely made of mercenaries (compare the description of Shishak's army, 1 Chronicles 12:3). The present defeat of Zerah would go far to explain the known decline of the Egyptian power at just this date, i.e. some twenty-five to thirty years after Shishak. At the same time, it must be admitted that it is not possible to identify with certainty Zerah with either Usarken. Whether he is an unknown Arabian Cushite, or an unknown African Cushite of Ethiopia-above-Egypt, or one of the Usarkens, has yet to be pronounced. Mareshah (see our note, 2 Chronicles 11:8). It lay the "second mile" (Eusebius and Jerome) south of Eleutheropolis and between Hebron (1 Maccabees 5:36; 2 Maccabees 12:35) and Ashdod (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 12.8. § 6). The mention of the valley of Zephathah in the following verse will half identify its exact position. It is probable that Dr. Robinson ('Bibl. Res.,' 2.67) and Toblev in his interesting , Dritto Wand.', have reliably fixed the site one Roman mile south-west of the modern Beit-Jibrin. Mareshah is again mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:37 and Micah 1:15, as quoted already, in references interesting to be consulted. A thousand thousand. Whether this number be correct or not, it may be noted that it is the largest alleged number of an army given in the Old Testament.
2 Chronicles 14:10
The valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. "At" some translate "belonging to," some more suitably to the exact connection "near." The Hebrew here for" valley" is גֵיא. It can scarcely designate necessarily a "ravine." It is a valley in the sense of being a low, fiat region, in which springs of water "broke out." From Numbers 21:20, the first occasion of its occurrence, to Zechariah 14:5 it is found fifty-six times, and is always rendered (Authorized Version) "valley;" it is the word used in the celebrated passages, "Though I walk through the valley" etc. (Psalms 23:4); and "Every valley shall be exalted" (Isaiah 40:4). The Septuagint, however, do not render it uniformly; but though they render it generally φάραξ, they also have ναπή κοίλας αὐλών, and in some cases the simple word γῆ, as e.g. ἐν γῇ (γε) Ἑννόμ, (2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6), which, nevertheless, elsewhere they describe as φάραξ Ἑννόμ (Joshua 15:8). The full explanation may probably be that the word is used for the valley that narrowed up to a ravine-like pass, or gorge, or that opened out into one of the wide wadies of the country; but see Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' Appendix, pp. 482, 483, new edit; 1866. It is supposed that Zephathah is not mentioned elsewhere, but see the Zephath of Judges 1:17; and comp. Num 21:3 : 1 Samuel 30:30, which Keil and Bertheau think conclusively to be not the same.
2 Chronicles 14:11
Nothing with thee; Hebrew, אֵין־עִמְּךָ. In the passage of very similar tenor (1 Samuel 14:6) the exact rendering is more easily fixed, "It is nothing to the Lord," i.e. it makes no difference to the Lord, "to save by many or by few." Probably the correcter rendering of our present Hebrew text would be, "It makes no difference with thee to help those whose strength is great or whose strength is nothing (between the much even to the none of strength)." Keil and Bertheau would translate "There is none beside thee." For another instance of the preposition גֵּין followed by ל, see Genesis 1:6; and comp. 2 Chronicles 1:13. The prayer must be counted a model prayer to an omnipotent Deliverer. It consists of opening invocation and the instancing of what postulates the crowning Divine attribute as the broad foundation for argument; of invocation repeated, warmed to closer clinging by the appropriating "oar;" attended by the defining, though very universal petition, Help us; and followed by the argument of the unbending fidelity of trusting dependence, For we rest on thee, and in thy Name we go against this multitude; and, lastly, of invocation renewed or still determinedly sustained, pressed home by the clenching challenge of relationship and its correlative responsibility and presumable holy pride. The antithesis marked in these two last clauses will not escape notice—one made all the bolder, with the marginal reading of "mortal mall" for the emphatic (a poetical, universal kind of) word here employed (אֱגוֹשׁ) for man.
2 Chronicles 14:12
So the Lord smote the Ethiopians. As little as the real work was of the army of Asa, so little is said of even the mere human method by which this great victory was obtained for Asa and Judah. Again and yet again, in the following two verses, the glory is given to "the Lord."
2 Chronicles 14:13
And the Ethiopians … before his host. It is evident that these words, with the clauses they include, should be placed in brackets, and so leave "they," the subject of the verb "carried" in the last clause, to refer to its proper noun-subject, Asa and the people. Gerar. This place is mentioned as defining a full distant spot as the limit of the pursuit of the flying army. While it was nearly four hours south of Gaza, on the road to Egypt, it is calculated that it was more than twenty miles distant from Mareshah.
2 Chronicles 14:14
The fear of the Lord came upon them; i.e. on the cities round about Gerar. This and the following verse illustrate in particular the very graphic character which attaches to the entire stretch of the description of the scene, introduced so suddenly in 2 Chronicles 14:9 and closing with 2 Chronicles 14:15. Much spoil. The Hebrew word here used for "spoil" (בִּזָּה) is found only in Chronicles, Ezra, Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel, and once in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 29:19).
2 Chronicles 14:15
The tents of cattle. This word "tents" (אָהֲלֵי, construct state) is used just 325 times, and this is the only time it is spoken of as the place of cattle; there are, however, four passages looking the same way (Genesis 13:5; Judges 6:5; 2 Kings 7:7; Jeremiah 49:29). It is the word used for the tabernacle of the wilderness many times, and many times for the place of abode that has highest associations (Psalms 15:1; Psalms 118:15), and of the usual abodes of people (2 Chronicles 10:16). The use of the word here, though unique, will occasion no surprise, considering the camping of the vast invading army. Camels in abundance. The mention of this spoil reminds us both where we are, on desert border (1 Samuel 27:7-10; 1 Samuel 30:16, 1 Samuel 30:17), and what was the personality or nationality within some latitude of choice of the invaders. Returned to Jerusalem. The expression awakens inevitably, though inaptly, a reminiscence of Scripture language in strangest contrast—the climax in a description also, but of a victory infinitely vaster and grander and for ever (Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12). This return of "Asa and the people that were with him" to Jerusalem dated the commencement of a period of comparative internal peace and reform for the kingdom of Judah, that lasted twenty-one years, and yet more of exemption from Egyptian attack, that lasted about three hundred and thirty years. It was a doubtful benefit, but Judah and Egypt came to be found in alliance against Assyria (2 Kings 17:3-6; 2 Kings 18:20, 2 Kings 18:21, 2 Kings 18:24; Isaiah 30:2; Hosea 7:11). The 'Speaker's Commentary' points out the interesting fact that this was one of the only two occasions known of the Jews meeting in open field either Egypt or Assyria (the other occasion being the unfortunate one of Josiah against Necho, 2Ch 35:1-27 :30), and adds, "Shishak, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, and Ptolemy I; were either unopposed or only opposed from behind wails."
2 Chronicles 14:1-15
The quiet often years.
The former half of this chapter may be said to turn upon the welcome subject of the "quiet" (spoken of twice), the "no war" (spoken of once), and the "rest" (spoken of three times), which were now for ten years the portion of Judah. The tender youth and the pious promise of King Asa combined, no doubt, in the providence of God, with external circumstances, to secure that interval of quiet and repose from war from which many blessings were able to flow. We may notice generally, from such induction of illustrations as are yielded by the far less complex instances of those wars that belong to early history and to the histories of Scripture, some of the essential and intrinsic advantages and blessings of being, in this most impressive sense, "quiet."
I. THE FREE, LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE AFFECTIONS OF HUMAN NATURE. What more dreadful subversion could be known to human nature than that love should be called and should become hate, and to labour to destroy human life should take the place of labour and zeal to save and to serve it! A nation that is at peace, and undisturbed by apprehension of war, is, by the very fact, delivered from being the victim of passions and of the sure operation of principles which must be only one degree less destructive to the unconscious subjects than to their designed and deliberately marked objects. War shakes not merely to its foundations this or that fabric of human society, but to its centre the fabric called human nature itself, which is compacted of affections, and, invisible though they may be, bound of no other bonds so real. Nothing, therefore, can justify it but that kind of necessity which declares, and can demonstrate what it declares, that that disaster of "shaking" confronts, and is within measurable distance of, the one alternative of shattering, and may therefore be counted the lesser evil or risk. The mutual hate and ill will of nations is a monster form of the sin of individual hate, and it is the violating on a gigantic scale of the second great commandment. It is true that there are some reliefs to this indictment, in respect of those composing the actual armies that confront one another, and of throe who may be called the mere machinery of war; but there is little relief, indeed, to it, in regard to all who may be called principals. But in the "quiet" of a nation, its proper human affections find their opportunity and feel their way with some uniformity and some regularity of growth; not swept across, on the one hand, by the destructive tornado of animosity, prejudice, hate, and by all the hurricane of evil-doing; nor, on the other hand, goaded into partial, frenzied action by the anguished imagination, or the sickening sight of the unspeakable horrors of the actual battle-field—its mangled limbs, its cries and groans, and, for months afterwards, its bleeding hearts and wasted homes, and that whole crew of consequential vices and indirect calamities which overspread equally the land of conquered and conqueror!
II. THE THOUGHT OF A PEOPLE NOT SUBJECT TO THE UNHEALTHY STRAIN OF ONE USURPING INTEREST, ONE IMPERIOUS, TYRANNOUS, CONSTANT, EXCITING THEME, BUT FREE TO ASCERTAIN, TO FOLLOW, TO DEVELOP, THE LEADING AND THE INSTINCTS OF ITS PROPER GENIUS, WHATEVER THAT MAY BE. The loss is, of course, simply incalculable which has resulted from this one source of perversion, so varied in its operation. No eye, even with all the aid of historic retrospect, can track its disturbing, distracting, desolating tyranny. The interaction of the exceedingly diverse genius of different peoples must be equally significant with the same phenomenon as between different individuals (as e.g. even within the range of one family), and is amazingly tributary to the general and, let us say, universal well-being, when permitted, as it never yet has been, free play. For what areas of lands, bounded and unbounded in dimension, and through what stretches of the ages, has it substituted the ravaging headlong course of the turbid mountain-torrent for the flow of some beneficent river, with the generous, fertilizing streams, and the everywhere meandering rills, and the unnumbered perennial springs!
III. OUTER WORKS OF WIDE AND ENDURING INFLUENCE, AND MONUMENTS OF REAL AND ENDURING HONOR, AMONG THE PEOPLE. With what a mourning heart we look back upon many, nay, the most part, of the greatest monuments of antiquity, and are often tempted to do so with cynical look and cynical speech! How many of them perpetuate the names and memory of those who were the scourges of their kind, the pestilences of human society, barriers to the health, wealth, and real well-being of the world, from whom they wrung unwilling and undeserved honour, which time has reversed and revenged! By unfortunate irony of events, the useful works of our text even were largely those of the surer preparation for war; but we may perhaps lay more grateful stress on the thought that they are described rather as preparations against war, and defensive in character. Modern history and, in especial, the history, in God's mercy, through some few longer stretches of time, of Great Britain—that antitype in so many most real senses of Judaea of old—have clone enough just to exemplify sufficiently the fact that, in "quiet," the useful works of art, the pursuit of the most beneficent sciences, the material well-being of a people, find the occasion to rise and to spread more equably. Material well-being may not at first seem to be of the highest moment, but (the expression being rightly understood) it certainly is of very high moment. The world was not meant to be a scene of beggary, nor the mere triumph of moral and spiritual force, with constant strain and effort over material exigence. So far as at any time and any where it is such a scene, it yields no honour to religion, no testimony to its power, no furtherance of its imperial claims.
IV. FAVOURABLE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE FAIREST OF GROWTHS—THAT OF RELIGION, AND OF A HEALTHY STATE OF RELIGIOUS FEELING AND LIFE. The "quiet" and "rest" so repeatedly spoken of are instanced partly, indeed, as the reward of practical religion, but partly also (hero as very emphatically elsewhere) as the opportunity of setting the house of God, its worship, and its priests and officers in order, and of breaking down and breaking away from the evil practices and habits of idolatry. It can scarcely be doubted that the scourge of war was used, has often been used,
(1) as the just judgment on irreligion;
(2) as a strong corrective and loud call to remember God and righteousness; and
(3) as, generally speaking, such an awakener of the minds of men from that dormant, sluggish state that grows with hardening tendency on easy and undisturbed lives, that deep convictions of a religious character have been known to seed themselves under the unlikeliest of circumstances. There are abundant analogies to this in the individual life, which would quite prepare us for corresponding phenomena in the collective life of a nation. Nevertheless, the blessed reality has been of rare-enough occurrence. We cannot say that the holy dove lights often on such lands, in the midst of scenes where foes make fiends and where fiends triumph. War is too great a curse, and, where the blame may be the least, too directly the mark of the cloven foot. Golden harvest-fields of illimitable stretch do not bless the eye across rock-rent and gaping lands, of the scenery of which savagery is the first, the chief, the last characteristic. The still aspect of the rich, ever-ripening, abounding fruits of the retired, fertile, unstricken country, figure, not unaptly, the "no war," the "quiet," the "rest" of that land and nation, where the good leaven of God, by truth and practice, is blessedly leavening the whole lump.
2 Chronicles 14:9-15
The human trust and prayer that herald Divine victory.
Though God gives nothing for—that vanishing point—our merit, yet he constantly of old gave, now constantly gives, in connection with our own right-doings and fight-praying, in order that his freest gifts may establish a healthy reaction on our experience and on our practical conduct. In the prayer, the appeal, the trust, the simple, practical account of Ass, according to the narrative contained within the compass of the above verses, we have vividly portrayed—
I. THE SOVEREIGN MASTER OF AND OVER ALL DIFFICULTIES. What comfort we forfeit, what source of courage we fling away, when we permit to lie as though the mere commonplace of faith, the truth that God is the Equal of all our confronting difficulties, let them be what they may—equal to them at all times, in all places, under all circumstances and conditions! How much is written in the canon of confidence, the charter of our "liberty of speech" at the throne of the heavenly grace (1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15), where we read, "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him"! As much as is thus written, so much do we lose, when we fail to live in the strength thereof. Asa did now live so.
II. THE EXAMPLE OF AN UNCONDITIONED, UNLIMITED, AND UNINTERFERING COMMITTING OF THE ENTIRE CONTROL OF A PRESSING CASE OF HUMAN DIFFICULTY INTO GOD'S HAND, WHILE MAN REMAINS SIMPLY OBEDIENT TO THE DUTY OF ACTIVE WORK. Sometimes we are called upon to stand by and stand still, and see, as it were, at one view, whether more or less sustained in its duration, "the salvation of the Lord;" but more frequently, as in the example of the present narrative, we are reminded of the advisableness and duty of putting our own hand and all our own strength into the work, which still depends supremely on the "saving strength" of God and his Anointed.
III. ONE EARNEST ENTREATY THAT HE WILL BE GRACIOUSLY PLEASED TO ASSUME THE SOVEREIGN MASTERY OF THE DIFFICULTY' OF THE SITUATION, AND TAKE THE CONTROL OFFERED TO HIM, IN LOVING FAITH AND TRUST. God waits for this on the part of his creatures—our heavenly Father on the part of his children. He loves to be asked, and desires that we should seek and knock. And it is, indeed, a most inspiring thought, as well as a thought warranted of inspiration, that our prayer, faith, trust, avail so often as the very signal of Divine action.
IV. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE TRIUMPH, WHICH THENCE RESULTS, OBSERVABLE. A faith that can scarcely be described as anything better than a lame faith; a trust that is suspicious and doubtful all the while; a prayer that has no earnestness nor force of anticipation inherent in it, are poor preparation for conflict, and no augury of decisive and trenchant triumph. They, at all events, in so sense deserve, as certainly they cannot merit nor earn, the shout of victory when the day's sun is ready to go down. Such a shout follows on decision of mind, glowing love, and trust of heart, and a tone in prayer, divinely warranted, that might itself be mistaken for a summons.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
2 Chronicles 14:1, 2 Chronicles 14:5 (latter part), 6, 7
Rest on every side.
It is significant enough that the Chronicler considered it a noteworthy fact that "in his days the land was quiet ten years." It indicates very forcibly that the chronic condition of the country in those times was one of unsettlement and strife. We should think it strange, indeed, if the historian of our country thought it worth while to record that for ten years the sovereign "had no war" (2 Chronicles 14:6). But it is painful to think that for very many centuries, in many lands, if not in all, war was regarded as the normal condition; an attitude of armed hostility toward the neighbouring nation was considered the necessary and natural relation. History then was not the account of discovery, of invention, of achievement, of advance; it was the story of international or civil war. This was the rule which, we may thank God, is now the exception, and which, we devoutly hope, will soon be obsolete. But for ten years the land "was quiet;" it had "rest on every side." We may glance at—
I. THE NATIONAL ASPECT OF THE SUBJECT. A nation has "rest on every side" when it
(1) is at peace will all surrounding powers; and
(2) is enjoying internal tranquillity, its various subjects living in concord, one class with another.
To obtain and to preserve such a desirable condition, there need to be
(1) a "foreign policy" that is not aggressive in aim or provocative in address; and
(2) an internal administration that is based on justice, that promotes wholesome and fruitful labour, that encourages and rewards merit and ability, that observes a strict impartiality amidst all differences of custom and belief. Then there is likely to be "rest on every side," more especially if the citizens of the land are serving the Lord according to their conscientious convictions, and are continually seeking his blessing and asking for "peace in their time" (2 Chronicles 14:6). But let us rather consider—
II. THE INDIVIDUAL ASPECT OF IT. HOW shall we have "rest on every side"?
1. Not by securing outward and temporal success. A man may clasp the goal of honour, or of wealth, or of affection, and may think himself possessor of complete and lasting rest, and he may awake any morning to find that all his pleasant conditions are disturbed, and that the prize of peace is snatched ruthlessly from his brow. The heavens may be cloudless and the sun be shining in its full light and warmth to-day; but to-morrow those heavens may be draped in gloom, and the rain may be pelting pitilessly upon us. Not that way lies "rest on every side."
2. Nor by going down into the grave. The "rest of the grave" is only a false poetical metaphor. That is not rest which excludes all present consciousness and provides no refreshment and invigoration for the future. The darkness of death which the despairing suicide seeks and finds is not rest at all; it is entirely undeserving of the name; the word is a complete misnomer as thus applied. It is not rest on any side; it is defeat; it is loss; iris destruction.
3. It is found in holy, filial service; in the happy, honourable, rightful service of a Divine Redeemer. There is
(1) peace with God—the rest that looks upward;
(2) peace in our own heart—rest within, all our spiritual faculties consenting to the condition—the reason, the conscience, the will, the affections;
(3) rest in relation to those that are without—a prevailing spirit of good will and of love toward all men—"rest on every side."—C.
2 Chronicles 14:2, 2 Chronicles 14:3, 2 Chronicles 14:5
Human energy and capacity show themselves in two forms -in the destructive and in the constructive. Though action of the latter kind is the more honourable and admirable of the two, yet that of the former is also useful and needful in its time. Moses did a very good work for the people of Israel when he ground to powder the golden calf; and Hezekiah, when he broke in pieces the brazen serpent and called it "a bit of brass;" and the Christians of Ephesus did a wise as well as a worthily sacrificial thing when they burnt the "books" out of which they had been making large profits for their pocket (Acts 20:19). Destructive godliness sometimes indicates a devotedness, and sometimes renders a service which deserves to take high rank amongst the excellences and even the nobilities of human worth. We look at—
I. THE DESTRUCTIVE PIETY SHOWN BY THE KING. He removed the high places set apart for idolatrous worship, also the altars of false gods; he "cut down the groves" where moral and devotional abominations were likely to be committed; he "took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made" (1 Kings 15:12). And that which was, perhaps, more than all this, as evidencing a sincerity and thoroughness of heart toward God, and justifying the language used by the Chronicler (2 Chronicles 14:2) concerning him, he destroyed the idol of Maachah, and even removed that idolatrous queen from the official dignity she had been enjoying. Asa, therefore, struck a very decisive and damaging blow at the idolatry of his time; he powerfully and effectually discouraged iniquity and immorality in three ways:
1. He showed his own personal and royal hatred of them.
2. He rebuked and punished the perpetrators of them.
3. He took away the means of indulging in them.
By these measures he strove well and wrought successfully for the truth of God and for the purity of his people.
II. OUR OWN ACTION IN THE SAME DIRECTION, In what ways shall we serve God by a destructive piety?
1. By promoting wise legislative measures. There arc evils which it is needless to name from which large numbers of people need to be protected. To be tempted by them is to be overcome, is to be slain by them; they are active sources of evil and of suffering, of ruin and of death; they ought to be suppressed; and one part of a Christian man's duty is to join his fellow-citizens in cutting down or "removing those high places" of the land.
2. By excluding evil things and evil persons from the home. There are men and there is literature concerning whom and concerning which we can only say that they arc sources of defilement; and if we have not power, like an Oriental monarch, to forbid them the land, we can forbid them the home; we can see that, in respect of those who are in our charge and for whose well-being we are responsible, that these men and these books are well beyond reach.
3. ,By putting down evil language. This we may do, in many quarters, by firmly discountenancing and fearlessly condemning it; the voice of righteous reprobation will soon silence the profane and lascivious tongue.
4. By expelling from our own life that which imperils our moral or spiritual integrity. Every man must know, or should know, what habits (in eating or drinking, in recreation, etc.) are fascinating, absorbing, dangerous to himself; must know in what direction it is perilous to set out, lest he should go too far. There let him determinately bar the way; that threatening habit let him exclude rigorously from his life (see Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30).—C.
2 Chronicles 14:2, 2 Chronicles 14:4, 2 Chronicles 14:6, 2 Chronicles 14:7
It is better to construct than to destroy (see preceding homily), and though Asa did well in demolishing the strange altars and expelling the sodomites from the land, he did even better in
(1) encouraging all Judah to seek God in worship and to obey his Law, and in
(2) fortifying his territory against the enemy while the land was in his full possession (while the land was "yet before" them). The patriotism and the piety that expended themselves in spiritual and in material edification were of the best. We shall find their analogue among ourselves in—
I. BUILDING UP OURSELVES on our holy faith (Jude 1:20). A man's first duty is that which he owes to his own spirit; for God has given him that, above all things, to have in charge and to present pure and perfect before him at the last. We are, therefore, most sacredly bound to build up ourselves in faith, in love, in purity, in truthfulness, in moral and spiritual integrity, in mercy and magnanimity. And this we shall do
(1) by the study of our Lord Jesus Christ (of his life and character);
(2) by the worship of him and fellowship with him, both in the home and in the sanctuary;
(3) by an earnest and prayerful endeavour to do and bear his will, and to follow his example until we attain to his likeness.
II. EDIFYING THOSE WHOM WE CAN INFLUENCE; bringing to bear upon the inmates of our home, upon those whom we employ (or by whom we are employed), upon our nearer neighbours, upon our fellow-townsmen, upon our fellow-worshippers and fellow-workers in the kingdom of God, all the strengthening, stimulating, elevating influence we can possibly command.
III. CARING FOR CONSULTING THE WELFARE OF OUR COUNTRY. Asa built those "fenced cities in Judah" that he might make timely provision against the enemy and thus keep him off, or repel him if he attacked. What are the enemies of our native land? These are not to be found (chiefly) in invading hosts; there is but little to be feared from them. We find our national enemies in intemperance, in impurity, in dishonesty and fraud, in unconscientious and unfaithful labour, and, therefore, in poor and unsound production, in political charlatanism and pretence, in ecclesiastical bitterness. We want to call into the field forces that will expel these evils from the land. Where shall we find them?
1. In Christ-like men; in men imbued with the spirit, possessed of the principles, living the life, of Jesus Christ.
2. In Christian institutions; in earnest, working Churches; in Sunday schools; in temperance societies; in guilds for the inculcation of all that is pure and wholesome; in philanthropic associations of many kinds.
3. In Christian literature. Not only that which is distinctively religions, but that also which is sound in tone and spirit, which imparts and infuses a true idea of human character and human life.
Our patriotic work must be found in building up these; building up these men in our homes and circles by the influence of our Christian character; sustaining these institutions by generous gifts of time and strength and money; countenancing and supporting this wholesome, edifying literature. So shall we also "build and prosper."—C.
2 Chronicles 14:8-15
The secret and the spirit of true defence.
We may learn from this narrative of unprovoked attack and triumphant defence—
I. THAT OUR UPMOST PREPARATION WILL NOT SECURE US FROM ATTACK. Asa endeavoured to make his little kingdom impregnable to assault by
(1) fortifying the outposts, and
(2) training and equipping a large army (2 Chronicles 14:7, 2 Chronicles 14:8).
Nevertheless, the Ethiopians came up against him with an army far stronger than his. The military and naval preparations of one country usually incite to greater preparations in another, and instead of war becoming impossible because each nation is invulnerable, it becomes probable because the combative spirit has been developed; one nation considers itself challenged by another, and because a large number of professional men are eager to exert their power and improve their position. But not only does "history repeat itself" thus; we have here an illustration of a wider truth—that whatever efforts we may make to guard ourselves against the inroad of evils, we shall surely fail. Sickness of some kind will attack us; disappointment and disillusion will find their way to our heart; sorrow will surprise us; loss and separation will befall us; death will knock at our door. There are no fortifications we can construct, there are no forces we can raise, Be we never so vigilant and alert, which will keep all enemies from the gate. Spite of fenced cities and many thousands of Jewish spears and Benjamite bows, the Ethiopian army comes up against Jerusalem.
II. THAT IN THE PATH OF MORAL AND SPIRITUAL RECTITUDE WE ARE IN THE WAY OF SAFETY. Asa had no need to be alarmed. Had he wickedly departed from the Lord he might well have been in the greatest consternation, for then the severe warnings of sacred Scripture would have been as a knell in his ears; but as it was, his fidelity to Jehovah was an assurance of safety. He was God's servant; he was in a position to "cry unto the Lord his God" (2 Chronicles 14:11); to say, "O Lord our God;" to claim that the Ethiopian's triumph would be a prevailing against the Lord himself: "Let not man prevail against thee." The king could hide in the cleft of the rock; he could fall back on almighty power; he was safe Before a blow was struck. He did the right thing on the occasion.
(1) He brought his army into the field, well equipped and well arrayed (2 Chronicles 14:10); and then
(2) he made his earnest, Believing appeal to the Lord his God. This is the path of safety, the place of wisdom. Let us, in days of peace and plenty, in the time of joy and honour, seek and serve the Lord our God, and then, when the darkness falls, when the enemy appears, when such power is needed as goes far beyond our small resources, we can turn with a holy confidence and with Christian calmness tot he sucoour of the faithful and the mighty Friend. We shall indeed do as Asa did; we shall summon all our own powers and wisdom to confront the danger, to meet the difficulty; but, like the King of Judah, we shall feel that our true hope is in the living God, and we shall hide in him, our Refuge and our Strength. "In his Name" we shall "go against this multitude."
III. THAT AS THOSE WHO FIGHT FOR GOD WE HAVE A POWERFUL PLEA. As those who are enlisted and engaged in the great campaign against moral evil in this world, we have a strong plea to urge when we draw nigh to God in prayer and seek his conquering power.
1. God is our God; the God of our choice and of his own faithful Word.
2. God is able to give us the victory even against the greatest odds: "It is nothing with thee to help" (2 Chronicles 14:11). "If thou wilt, thou canst." "All things are possible" with him,
3. We do all that we do in his Name, for the extension of his kingdom.
"The work is thine, not mine, O Lord,
It is thy race we run."
"Let not man prevail against thee."
IV. THAT, GOD WITH US, ANXIOUS FEAR WILL CHANGE TO JOYOUS VICTORY. "The Lord smote the Ethiopians … and Asa and the people pursued them," etc. (2 Chronicles 14:12-15). The king and the people of Judah went out of Jerusalem with the most grave concern in their hearts; they re-entered the royal city with their souls full of joy and their arms full of spoil. Their courage and, more especially, their fidelity were crowned with a true and a great success. So in due time will ours also. It is true that our fight with wrong and woe is not (like this one of Asa's) a short sharp battle; it is a long campaign; it is a campaign in which fortune wavers, or seems to waver, from side to side; in which many good soldiers of Christ are seen to fall. But there can be no doubt about the issue. The Lord is on our side. Victorious Love is our great Captain, and the time will come when we too shall "return to Jerusalem," with songs of joy and triumph on our lips.—C.
HOMILIES BY T. WHITELAW
2 Chronicles 14:1-8
Quiet in the land.
I. A GREAT BLESSING.
1. Its character. No war (2 Chronicles 14:6). Few, reflecting on the untold calamities of war, the expenditure of blood and treasure, the sorrow and desolation sent into many homes, the interruption of the arts of peace, the bad passions kindled by it in the breasts even of the victors, will doubt that peace is one of the foremost blessings a nation can enjoy. This was the condition of Judah during the first ten years of Asa's reign. Compare Shakespeare's description of "peace after a civil war" ('King Henry IV.,' Part I. act 1. sc. 1).
2. Its source. Jehovah (2 Chronicles 14:7). "Every good and every perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17)—true of national peace (Joshua 21:44; 1 Chronicles 22:18) no less than of other things (Psalms 29:11; Isaiah 45:7; Jeremiah 14:13; Haggai 2:9). As no king or people can stir up war until God permits, so can none extinguish its flames without his help. But "when he giveth quietness, who can make trouble?" (Job 34:29). Hence national peace should be prayed for (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Timothy 2:1, 1 Timothy 2:2).
3. Its medium. Righteousness. The peace of Asa's opening years was due, not to Abijah's successful campaigns (2 Chronicles 13:15), though successful campaigns are of God's giving (Psalms 144:1, Psalms 144:2, Psalms 144:10); or to his own skilful diplomacy, since skilful diplomacy is not always from above (2 Samuel 16:20, etc.); or to his fenced cities, which would have been poor fortifications had they not been defended by Jehovah's battalions (Psalms 127:1); but to his and his people's following after that righteousness which is a nation's best defence (Proverbs 14:34) and a sovereign's surest security (Proverbs 16:12). Asa and his people sought the Lord their God, and he gave them "rest on every side." The annals of Israel show that peace ever went hand-in-hand with piety, and war with disobedience (Psalms 81:11-16; Isaiah 68:18, 19). Always when the people chose new gods there was war in the gates (Judges 5:8). When they forsook God, he forsook them, with the result that "there was no peace to him that went out or to him that came in" (2 Chronicles 15:5). So, in modem times, the military spirit exists in Christian men and nations in proportion as they depart from the religion of Jesus. If at any time "Christianity, socially regarded, does almost nothing to control the state of expectant war and the jealousies of nations," that is not because Christianity is a "failure," and "criminally complacent to these (and other)evils," or "because the religion of heaven and supernatural visions" is "powerless to control this earth and its natural realities", but because its professed disciples do not honestly obey its precepts (John 13:34; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 5:2) and carry out its principles (Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:10; James 2:8). The reign of Christianity in any nation would put an end to civil feuds and wars of aggression. With the extinction of these, wars of defence would cease.
II. A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY.
1. For the furtherance of true religion. Besides setting an example of personal religion—the most effective way in which kings can promote national religion—Asa laboured with promptitude, decision, and assiduity in the work of abolishing the prevalent idolatry.
(1) He demolished the "strange altars," i.e. altars to foreign divinities which had been erected by his predecessors, Solomon and Rehoboam, and left standing by his father Abijah.
(2) He removed the "high places" dedicated to idolatrous worship, though he allowed those which had been consecrated to Jehovah to remain (2 Chronicles 15:17; 1 Kings 15:14).
(3) He brake down the "pillars," obelisks or monumental columns dedicated to Baal. (2 Kings 3:2; 2 Kings 10:26), resembling that erected by Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 35:14), and perhaps also those set up by Moses at Sinai (Exodus 24:4) in honour of Jehovah.
(4) The Asherim, wooden idols or tree trunks, consecrated to Astarte (see Keil on 1 Kings 14:23), he hewed down.
(5) From all the cities of Judah he removed the high places and the sun-images, i.e. pillars or statues consecrated to Baal as the sun-god, and erected near or upon the altars of Baal (2 Chronicles 34:4). So Christian kings and statesmen should labour at the destruction of all false forms of religion within their domains; not, however, by forcible suppression, which, though permitted and even demanded of Ass, is not allowed to sovereigns or, indeed, to any under the gospel, but by fostering in all legitimate ways what they believe to be the absolute and only true religion.
2. For promulgating useful laws. When nations are distracted by internecine feuds within themselves or between each other, it is hopeless to expect the work of good legislation to proceed. Hence the value of a "long peace" to any country, permitting, as it does, the cultivation of the peaceful arts, the development of trade and commerce, the spread of learning and culture, the growth of domestic institutions, and the promotion of measures for the welfare of the state. Asa, in the ten years of rest, "commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to do the Law and the commandment" (2 Chronicles 14:4); and though under the New Testament dispensation it is not required of kings to command their subjects to worship and obey God—that being an obligation already laid on men by the gospel—and far less to punish them should they disobey, it is, nevertheless, allowed kings to follow in Asa's footsteps so far as to utilize the years of rest their countries may enjoy in legislating for the comfort and happiness of their subjects.
3. For securing the safety of the realm. Asa did so by
(1) erecting military fortresses, "fenced cities" in the land of Judah, surrounding them with walls and towers, and securing them with gates and bolts; and
(2) by collecting around him a well-equipped army—from Judah 300,000 targeteers and spearmen, with heavy shields and lances (1 Chronicles 12:24); and from Benjamin 280,000, bearing light shields and furnished with bows (1 Chronicles 8:40). So should Christian states employ times of peace in constructing such bulwarks as their lands require, whether in the shape of garrison cities, regiments of soldiers, or fleets of war-vessels, since self-preservation is an instinct of nature as much for nations as for individuals, and is not forbidden to either by the gospel, while to be prepared for war is sometimes an effective means of securing peace (Luke 11:21).
LESSON. The duty of individuals and nations to shun war and follow peace.—W.
2 Chronicles 14:9-15
An alarming invasion.
I. THE INVADER AND HIS ARMY. (2 Chronicles 14:9.)
1. The invader. Zerah, the Ethiopian (or Cushite), commonly identified with Osorkhon (Usarkon) I. king of Egypt, the second sovereign of the twenty-second or Bubastio dynasty (Rossellini, Wilkinson, Champollion, Lepsius, Rawlinson, Ebers); but, inasmuch as no Ethiopian appears among the monumental kings of this dynasty, a claim to be regarded as the Zerah of Scripture has been advanced in behalf of Azerch-amen, an Ethiopian conqueror of Egypt (Schrader, Brugseh), who, in the reign of Osorkhon, overran the entire dominion of the Pharaohs, and, though unable at that time to retain his hold, nevertheless paved the way for the subsequent conquest of the country by Pianchi, of the twenty-fifth or Ethiopian dynasty. If, however, the former identification be provisionally accepted, Zerah's designation as "the Cushite" may be explained by supposing that his mother was an Ethiopian (Rawlinson), or that he bore the title "king's son of Cush" as crown prince of Egypt and viceroy of the south or Ethiopia (Ebers).
2. His army—1,000,000 men—900,000 infantry, with 100,000 cavalry (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 8.12. 1), and 300 chariots. This immense host of Ethiopians and Libyans (2 Chronicles 16:8), only 100,000 fewer than all the fighting men of Israel, and. more than twice as many as the warriors of Judah in the time of David (1 Chronicles 21:5), so far outnumbers the army of Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:3), that it has been set down to popular exaggeration in making a rough estimate (Keil), or to legendary embellishment (Ebers), suggested by the vast armies of the Persians, with which the Chronicler was familiar (Ewald). The largest army o! invasion of which history speaks was probably that of Xerxes, which, when numbered on the Doriscan plain, amounted to nearly two millions and a half of fighting men, military and naval. Recent calculations show that "the total strength of the German army on a war footing is now rather over three millions and a half of men'.
3. His camp. At Mareshah, or Marissa, one of Rehoboam's garrison cities, between Hebron and Ashded (2 Chronicles 11:8, which see).
II. THE MONARCH AND THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH. (2 Chronicles 14:10,2 Chronicles 14:11.)
1. A display of splendid courage. "Asa went out against him." On either hypothesis as to Zerah's person, it was an exhibition of noble daring on the part of the King of Judah to confront him, much more to stand up against a million of highly disciplined troops, with only little more than half that number of spearmen and archers (2 Chronicles 14:8). As an instance of heroic fortitude, it was worthy to be placed alongside of the most brilliant feats of valour recorded in either sacred or profane history, as e.g. the pursuit of the victorious kings by Abraham (Genesis 14:14-16), the discomfiture of the Midianitee by Gideon with 300 men (Judges 7:21), the invasion of the Philistines' garrison at Miehmash by Jonathan and his armour-bearer (1 Samuel 14:13-16), the combat of David with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:49, 1 Samuel 17:50), the defeat of the Persians under Darius at Marathon by Miltiades, with a small body of Athenians and Plataeans, and under Xerxes at Thermopylae, by Leonidas and 300 Spartans, the victory of Bruce with 80,000 Scotch over Edward II. with 100,000 English, of the Black Prince over an army seven times as large as his own at Poictiers, of Clive with 3000 men over 50,000 led by the Nabob of Moorshedabad at Plassey (A.D.). 1757).
2. An example of commendable prudence. Asa selected, as the spot on which to join issue with the enemy, the valley of Zephathah, near Mareshah, probably because there the advantage to be derived from superior numbers would less operate. He also disposed his troops in such a fashion as to enable them most efficiently to resist the onset of the foe. In so doing, he only discovered his sagacity and sense both as a general and a man. He knew that, while it was hopeless to expect victory without God's help, it was folly to cry for Divine assistance while neglecting to put his battalions in order. So in ordinary matters and in matters of religion. Prayer cannot supersede the use of common means.
3. A pattern of lofty faith. Having marshalled his forced, Asa prayed—prayed upon the battle-field, as Moses did on the Red Sea shore when pursued by the Philistines (Exodus 14:10), as Jehoshaphat did when invaded by the Ammonites and Moabites (2 Chronicles 20:18), as Cromwell and his Ironsides, Gustavus Adolphus and his Swedes, Colonel Gardiner and his Scotch dragoons, and other God-fearing generals with their regiments have been accustomed to do before entering into engagements with their enemies. Asa's prayer was remarkable for two things.
(1) For the brevity and directness of its petitions. Necessitated in his case by the situation, these qualities are excellent in all petitioners (Matthew 6:7). Asa asked the help of Jehovah against his foes, as David before him had often done (Psalms 59:4; Psalms 71:12; Psalms 35:2), and as Christians may still do (Hebrews 4:16), especially against such foes as are spiritual and threaten the destruction of their souls.
(2) For the excellence and strength of its arguments. invites those who address him in prayer to fill their mouths with arguments (Job 23:4), to bring forth their strong reasons (Isaiah 41:21), and to plead with him (Isaiah 43:26). Asa urged:
(a) Jehovah's covenant relation to him and his people. Jehovah was God and their (2 Chronicles 14:11)—a good argument for a Christian suppliant.
(b) The multitude of the foe arranged against them. David derived a plea from the number of his adversaries (Psalms 25:19, Psalms 56:2), and so may David's brethren (Ephesians 6:18). Compare the English king's prayer at Agincourt, "O God, of battles," etc. ('Henry V.,' Acts 4:0. sc. 1).
(c) The fact that the war was Jehovah s even more than theirs (2 Chronicles 20:15). They were going out against Zerah in his Name, as in his Name David had advanced to meet Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45). In this Name all Christian warfare should be carried on (Psalms 20:5; Acts 4:30; Acts 16:18; Colossians 3:17); when it is, a claim is thereby established upon God to uphold the honour of his Name (Psalms 71:9; John 12:28).
(d) The circumstance that he alone was able to assist them in the tremendous crisis that had come upon them. "There is none beside thee to help, between the mighty and him that hath no strength" (Revised Version); or, "There is no difference with thee to help, whether the mighty or him that hath no strength" (margin); or, "It is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power" (Authorized Version). Whichever reading be adopted—though the first is the best—the sentiment was that Jehovah alone could assist in so unequal a combat, and that he could do so if he would, since it was not necessary for him to be "on the side of the strongest battalions" (Napoleon). He could win battles, as Jonathan long before observed, whether by many or by few. (1 Samuel 14:6). Much more is God the only Refuge to which the Christian can turn on carrying on the unequal contest to which he is called against the principalities and powers of darkness; and to his power nothing is impossible.
(e) The dishonour Jehovah himself would sustain through their defeat. The invasion of Zerah was practically a campaign against Jehovah. To suffer them to be overthrown would be (seemingly at least) permitting himself to be overcome by a weak mortal. Happily, God condescends to allow this in matters of grace, as in the case of Jacob (Genesis 32:29; Hosea 12:4), but not in ordinary affairs when the interest of his kingdom would be thereby injured (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11). Asa's argument was good. Compare the boldness of Moses in pleading with God in behalf of Israel (Numbers 14:16).
(3) The fact that they were deliberately trusting in God. "Help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on thee." God has pledged himself never to disappoint those who trust in him (Psalms 34:22; Psalms 37:40; Isaiah 45:17).
III. JEHOVAH AND THE COMBATANTS. (2 Chronicles 14:12-15.)
1. The Ethiopians were routed.
(1) They were defeated on the field of battle. Jehovah "smote" them before Asa and Judah (2 Chronicles 14:12).
(2) They were put to flight by the archers and spearmen that opposed them. The Ethiopians "fled."
(3) They were pursued as far as Gerar, a chief city of the Philistines, now identified as the Khirbet-el-Gerar, in the Wady Jorf-el-Gerar, three leagues south-east of Gaza (Rowland).
(4) They were massacred by the victorious monarch and his exulting warriors. They were "destroyed before the Lord and before his host," for the understanding of which there is no need to call in the help of a battalion of angels, as in Genesis 32:2. Asa's army was Jehovah's host, because Jehovah was with it and in it; and the blood of Asa's enemies was poured out before Jehovah, because the battle had been undertaken in his Name and the victory achieved through his power.
(5) They were so completely crushed that they could not recover themselves. They disappeared from Palestine, and ceased from troubling Judah. Such will be the end of the enemies of the Church of God (1 Samuel 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
2. The men of Judah were victorious.
(1) The monarch's prayer was answered. So did God hear the prayer of Moses when he cried for help against the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15), and that of the Israelites when they appealed for assistance against their foes (Judges 10:11), and that of the Reubenites when they entreated succour against the Hagarites (1 Chronicles 5:20), and that of Hezekiah when he appealed to the Lord God of Israel against Sennacherib (1 Kings 19:15, etc.). So God hears the prayer of the Church's King (John 11:41, John 11:42), and of the soldiers of the cross (Psalms 65:2; Ephesians 3:20; 1 John 4:6).
(2) The soldiers' courage was rewarded. They inflicted a decisive blow upon the enemy; they smote all the cities round about Gerar, these having probably espoused the cause of the enemy; they carried away much spoil, not only of ammunitions of war and provisions which had been laid up in those cities, but also of cattle and sheep and camels, which they had found in abundance, and which, in all likelihood, had belonged to the enemy. So did Christ, the Captain of salvation, achieve a brilliant triumph over the principalities and powers of darkness, despoiling them of victory, and making a show of them openly (Colossians 2:15); and so will Christ's followers be made more than conquerors over the same foes (Rom 8:1-39 :87), and carry off from the fields of conflict where they meet their enemies much spiritual treasure (Romans 8:28).
1. The sinfulness of wars of aggression, and the lawfulness of wars of defence.
2. The duty of combining working with praying, as well as praying with working.
3. The impossibility of achieving victory either without or against God, or of suffering defeat with God upon one's side.—W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany