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But not merely this. "Elisha died and they buried him" (2 Kings 13:20). Was not Elisha gone then? Not so. There was to be even a more glorious witness in his death than in his life. In his life, no doubt, he had witnessed; but with what great toil and anxiety and pains! stretching himself over the dead youth, he had breathed, and put his face upon the child's face; and so it was, laboriously and with effort in appearance, that God raised him up. For God would show the magnitude of the deed that he was doing then, and although it was in no wise because of all the labour of the prophet, since God could have done it in an instant as truly at the beginning as at the end, yet still it was the way of God. But not so now. Even in death what a witness of the power of life, in Elisha, for, as we are told, "It came to pass as they were burying a man that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood upon his feet." And so will Israel another day not more truly that dead man then, than Israel by-and-by, when all seems forgotten and Israel as good as dead, and buried in response to the prophets, in answer to that voice which will never be truly extinguished, though it may be forgotten or despised, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and the hand of the Lord had written it. And according to the prophets Israel will rise again.
They may be, as now they are politically, in the dust of the earth, but they will rise again. This is the portion of Israel. There are those who suppose that nations shall not rise. Alas! it is a common error. And there is no error more common in this day than the denying the resurrection of the body, but we know that the resurrection of the body is the most essential truth of God and the most sacred truth and the peculiar one of the gospel. For if the dead rise not, then is Christ not risen, and God's testimony is denied, for God's testimony is that He raised Christ from the dead which He has not done if the dead rise not. But contrariwise He raised Him up, and so the dead will be raised; and as the dead man here undoubtedly rises, so truly Israel will rise again, and, in truth, it will be "life from the dead" for all the nations. Such is the clear voice of prophecy, and it will be accomplished.
But we find that Hazael still pursues his oppression. Such is the literal history; such is the fact, for the present; such it was then.
And then in the next chapter (2 Kings 14:1-29), whatever might be the measure of right, evil takes its way even in Judah. "And it came to pass, as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hands, that he slew his servants which had slain the king his father. But the children of the murderers he slew not; according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein Jehovah commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin. He slew of Edom, in the valley of salt, ten thousand, and took Selah by war, and called the name of it Joktheel unto this day." Amaziah thus shows a measure of righteousness, but his heart becomes, at last, lifted up within him, and he challenges the king of Israel; and the solemn fact appears that God will never sanction the presumption of a righteous man, that God will rather take the part of the bad man who is challenged presumptuously than of the righteous man that challenges him presumptuously. It is a solemn thing when the folly of God's people thus makes it necessary for God so to deal. It was so then, but the truth is, God will always be where righteousness is, and there is not a single failure in righteousness though it be in God's own people, where God does not set His face against it.
Does this then prove that the one is not a righteous man? Not so. But even where the unrighteous man may be righteous, and where the righteous man may be unrighteous, God will appear to change sides. The truth is, that God holds to righteousness wherever it exists. This is what we find, and to my own mind it is a most wholesome principle, and one that counts for a great deal in practical life, because often one sees the sad spectacle in one truly to be loved and valued, but a mistake is made never without its consequences. An error that is made always bears its fruit. Am I therefore to forget my love and esteem for him who has done it? Nay, I am to judge according to God the particular thing; but to let the heart and its affections flow in their proper channel. God would not have us to abandon, any more than He does Himself, the one who trusts Him, for swerving for a moment. God would not have us to sanction an unrighteous man because in a particular instance he may be right; nor, on the other hand, are we to sanction an unrighteous act because done by a righteous man. Well, all this shows us the nice and jealous care in details in details for righteousness. And this is to my mind the great moral of the dealings of God regarding Amaziah and Joash, and the reason why the comparatively righteous Amaziah was allowed to fall before the certainly unrighteous Joash.
Then we find another remarkable dealing of God in the case of Azariah in the fifteenth chapter. We are told there that he was found smitten of the Lord. "And Jehovah smote the king, so that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a separate house." The details of this are not given. He is called here Azariah. You must remember it is the same person who is called Uzziah in the book of Chronicles. But further, at this time evil was coming in more and more with a flood, and we have the sad and humbling history of Samaria. What brought in this terrible day was Ahaz so it is that the Spirit of God speaks of him for Ahaz was the worst king that had ever reigned in Judah up to this point. He it was that first brought in the Assyrian as a helper. At this time the Assyrian had come in in another way. We are told of Azariah king of Judah that "In the nine and thirtieth year of Azariah king of Judah began Menahem the son of Gadi to reign over Israel, and reigned ten years in Samaria. And he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah: he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land."
The solemn thing that appears in Ahaz that I have referred to was that the conspiracy of Israel with Syria led Judah to call in Assyria against Israel. That is the point. It is not merely the only course of enmity that the Assyrian would have against the land. This is the point of the fifteenth chapter; but in the sixteenth it is a still more solemn thing; it is the union of Judah with the Gentile against Israel. And, accordingly, God marks His deep displeasure of this terrible reign. Indeed in every point of view it was unboundedly evil. What did God do? What marked the way of God in that day? It was the time when God brought out prophecy with a greater brightness and distinctness than He had ever been pleased to give. This is of the greatest moment for our souls to consider.
Prophecy always comes in a time of ruin. When was the first prophecy? When man fell. When was the first continuous prophecy prophecy not merely of a person that was coming, but of the character of him that was coming, and what was to be done that which most of all looks like a prophecy? It was Enoch's, when the world was full of corruption and violence, and the flood was about to be sent upon it. Thus if we look either at the prophecy of the Son, of man the woman's Seed, or look at the first form of prophecy, Enoch's, we see how clearly the time of ruin is the time when God gives prophecy. In the same way it is, when we come lower down the stream of time. The most magnificent burst of prophecy that God ever gave was through Isaiah, and Isaiah began his course under these very kings in the days of Azariah and Ahaz. It was continued, indeed, till the days of Hezekiah, but it was in these very times. And there was not Isaiah alone. We know there were other prophets, commonly called The Minor; but I refer to it now for the great moral principle. A time of evil is not necessarily a time of evil for the people of God. It is evil for those' that are false; it is evil for those that would take advantage. But a time of evil is a time when God particularly works for the blessing of those that may have failed. Therefore let no one find an excuse because things are in a condition of ruin.
Take the present time. No man can look upon the face of Christendom without feeling that it is out of joint that it is altogether anomalous that the state of things is inexplicable except to the man who reads it in the light of the word of God that it is confusion, and that the worst confusion is where the highest profession of order is found, and that the truest order is found where people would tax them with disorder; for I believe in point of fact, it really is so. You must remember that in an evil day the external order is always with the enemies of God; the true internal order is always found with those that have faith. Hence it is that now that which has the highest pretension to order is, as we know, the Eastern church the Latin church; but of all the things under the sun in the form of religion, that which is most opposed to God is, surely, the Latin church. And therefore we see clearly how those who make the highest claim to order are precisely those that are most opposed to God's way, and the reason is plain because the great assumption, invariably, of those that stand to outward order is succession a plain continued title from God!
But this is a thing which prophecy so rudely breaks this dream of outward order which is a mere veil thrown over confusion, and every evil work. Hence the immense importance of prophecy in a time of ruin, and so it has been that since the ruin came into Christendom, prophecy has always been the grand support of those who have had faith; as, on the other hand, the Latin church has always been the deadly enemy of prophecy always endeavoured to extinguish the study of it and to destroy all faith in it, and to make people believe that it is impossible to have real light from it that it is an illusion, as indeed they would make you believe the word of God generally is.
Now, then, in this very place I call your attention, beloved friends, to this grand point. When this evil became insupportable, God granted this precious light of His own word the light of prophecy, and I would press this strongly upon all here who love the word of the Lord. Use the same thing, not by any means to make it a kind of study a kind of exclusive occupation, for nothing can be more drying up to spiritual affections than making, what I may call, a hobby of prophecy or of anything else; but I do say that where Christ has the first place, where all the precious hopes of grace, where all our associations with the Lord have their true place and power, a most important part is filled up by the understanding of that light which God gives to judge the present by the future. This was the object of the prophecies of Isaiah, for it is a very important thing to remember that the object of prophecy is, and must be, moral that it is not merely facts; and there is no greater mistake than to suppose that the prediction of events is what makes a prophet. Not so. I admit that prophets did predict events, but prophecy does not mean predicting. Prophecy is always bringing in God to deal with the conscience. If that is not done the grand object of prophecy has failed. And here you have a test, therefore, as to whether you understand and rightly use prophecy. Does it bring your conscience into the presence of God? Does it deal with what you are about? Does it judge the secrets of the heart? Does it shine upon your ways? Where this fails, God's object is not attained. I just draw attention, therefore, by the way, to this beautiful contrast to man's ways on the one hand this flood of evil that was now rising to its height. Nevertheless God, astonishing to say, instead of meeting it by immediate judgment answers it by prophecy. The glorious light that He caused to shine through the prophet Isaiah was His answer. No doubt that made the wickedness of what was going on in the land more apparent, but it had another purpose; it bound up the hopes of every believing soul in Israel with the Messiah that was coming. That was God's great object. It dissociated them from present things, giving them a sound judgment, and means to form an estimate of it, but it bound up their hearts with the Lord.
Therefore I need not say much about the enormous wickedness of Ahaz, which is brought before us in the sixteenth chapter, nor will I do more than just refer to the seventeenth chapter. There the Assyrian comes, but he comes now as an avenger; he comes as a scourge. He sweeps the land, and the ten tribes are carried away never to return till Jesus returns. The ten tribes from that day disappeared from the land of Israel. What took their place what formed the kingdom of Samaria was a mere mass of heathen that took up the forms of Israel that had been left behind, for God in a remarkable way visited the land. When the Assyrians were planted in the devastated cities of Israel they set up their old Assyrian religion, and the Lord sent lions among them. They understood it. Man has a conscience. They understood it; they knew that it was a voice from the God of Israel. It was the God of Israel that claimed that land. No doubt they thought to propitiate Him by renewing the old worship of Israel, and in their folly they sent for a priest of Israel from the captivity, and the old religion, accordingly, was brought in a most strange medley of the nominal worship of Jehovah and real idolatry. But so it was. Thus began not the Samaritan kingdom but the Samaritan religion the mixture of Judaism and idolatry carried on by heathen.
On this I do not now say more than just refer to it. It was a sad succession for a sad people. The ten tribes now dispersed in Assyria awaiting the day when the Saviour will awake them from the dust of the earth when the Saviour will call them back to the land of their inheritance. But we must look at other scriptures before we reach that blessed point.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany