The Present Truth : February 18, 1897
Although the children of Israel sang the song of deliverance by the Red Sea, and with good reason, too, it was not until they had crossed the Jordan that they were really free from Egypt. They did not hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end, but “in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us.” Acts 7.39, 40. When they crossed the Jordan, however, and came into the land of Canaan, they had the testimony from God that the reproach of Egypt was rolled away from them. Then they had rest, and were free in the Lord.
But this freedom was not long retained; murmuring, distrust, and apostasy soon appeared among God’s people. They desired a king, that they might be like the heathen about them, and their desire was granted to the full. They “mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols, which were a snare unto them, Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood.” Psalm 106.35-38. Thus they became literally like the heathen round them.
A little glance at the history of some of the kings of Israel and Judah will show how completely the children of Israel, in getting a king, had the fulfillment of their wish to be like the heathen. To Saul, the first king, the prophet of God said, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.” 1 Samuel 15.22, 23
Solomon took many strange wives from among the heathen and “it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.” 1 Kings 11.4, 5
Under Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, “Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. For they also built them high places, and images, and groves,13 on every high hill, and under every green tree. And there were also Sodomites in the land; and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.” 1 Kings 14.22-24
The same thing is recorded of Ahaz (2 Kings 16.1-4), and although “the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel; for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the Lord,” yet “in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord; this is that king Ahaz. For he sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him; and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel.” 2 Chronicles 28.19-23
“Worse Than the Heathen”
Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. . . . And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the Lord said to David, and to Solomon his son, in this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put My name for ever; neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that My servant Moses commanded them. But they hearkened not; and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel.” “Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.” 2 Kings 21.1-9; 16
13 The word “groves” in this and the following texts, is a very unfortunate, misleading rendering of the original. The Revision has “Asherah.” As we can see by carefully noting the use of the term, it cannot mean a grove of trees, since we read of groves being set up “under every green tree, and in the house of the Lord.” The thing itself was an obscene image pertaining to the lascivious rites of one form of sun worship.
Amon succeeded Manasseh, “but he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, as did Manasseh his father; for Amon sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them.” 2 Chronicles 33.22
In The Northern Kingdom
If we take the kings that reigned over the northern portion of Israel after the kingdom was divided upon the death of Solomon, we find a worse record still. There were some righteous kings in Jerusalem; but beginning with Jeroboam, “who did sin, and who made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14.16), each successive king over the rest of Israel was worse than the one before him. Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin.” 1 Kings 15.26. Baasha “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin.” Verse 34. Omri, who built Samaria, “wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin, to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger with their vanities.” 1 Kings 16.25, 26. Yet bad as Omri was, “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him;” “and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.” Verses 30, 33
These matters went on until the Lord could say by the prophet Jeremiah, “Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executes judgment, that seeketh truth.” Jeremiah 5.1. Such a man was hard to find; “For among My people are found wicked men; they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit; therefore are they become great, and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine; yea, they overpass the deeds of the heathen.” Verses 26-28
Inasmuch as God drove the heathen out of the land, because of their abominable idolatry, it is very evident that the children of Israel could have no real inheritance in it when they were just like the heathen, and even worse. The fact that those who call themselves by the name of the Lord adopt heathen customs and manners does not make these customs one bit more acceptable to God. The fact that heathenism is in the church, does not recommend it. On the contrary, a high profession only makes the evil practice more heinous. The children of Israel were therefore not really in possession of the land of Canaan while they were following the ways of the heathen; nay, since the reproach of the bondage in Egypt was the sin into which they had fallen, it is evident that even while boasting of their freedom in the land of Canaan they were actually in the worst kind of bondage. When at a later date the Jews boastingly said, “We be Abraham’s seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man,” Jesus repeated, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin. And the bondservant abideth not in the house for ever; the Son abideth ever.” John 8.33-35
Yet there were wondrous possibilities all the time within reach of the people. At any time they might have repented and turned to the Lord, and they would have found Him ready to fulfill His promise to them to the uttermost. Although “all the chief of the priests and the people transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen,” still “the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling-place.” 2 Chronicles 36.14, 15. Many wonderful deliverances, when the Israelites were oppressed by their enemies, and humbly sought the Lord, showed that the same God who delivered their fathers from Egypt, was ready and waiting to exert the same power in their behalf, in order to perfect that for which He had brought them into the promised land.
One remarkable instance of the working of God for those who trust Him, and of the victory of faith, is found in the history of Jehoshapat. (2 Chronicles 20) It is specially valuable to us, for it shows us how to gain victories; and it also shows us again, what we have so many times noted, that the real victories of Israel were gained by faith in God, and not by the use of the sword. The story in brief is this: —
The Moabites and the Ammonites, together with other people, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. Their numbers were vastly in excess of those of the Israelites, and in their “Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord; even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.”
Jehoshaphat’s prayer on that occasion is a model. He said, “O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou God in Heaven? And rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in Thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand Thee? Art Thou not our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before Thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham Thy friend forever? . . . And now, behold the children of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, . . . how they reward us, to come to cast us out of Thy possession, which Thou hast given us to inherit. O Lord our God, wilt Thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do; but our eyes are upon Thee.”
First he recognized God as God in heaven, and therefore having all power. Next he claimed all this power as his own by claiming God as his own God. Then he was ready to make known his need, and to prefer his request, with full assurance of faith. To one who prays in that way, all things are possible. Too many offer prayer to God, without any just sense of His existence, as though they were praying to an abstract name, and not to a living, personal Saviour, and of course they receive nothing, for they do not really expect anything. Every one who prays should first contemplate God, before thinking of himself and his own needs. It is doubtless the case that most people when they pray think more about themselves than they do of God; instead of that, they should become lost in contemplation of God’s greatness and His kindness; then it is not difficult to believe that God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. As the Psalmist said, “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee; for Thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.” Psalm 9.10
While the people were still gathered to pray, the prophet of God came, and said, “Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou King Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” “Ye shall not need to fight in this battle; set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem; fear not, nor be dismayed; to-morrow go out against them; for the Lord will be with you.”
The people believed this message, “and they rose early in the morning and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood, and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord: for His mercy endureth for ever.”
“When They Began to Sing”
A strange way that, to go out to battle. It reminds us somewhat of the march round Jericho, and the shout of victory. As a general thing, people getting such a promise as they did at that time, that God would fight for them, would think that they showed great faith in going out at all against the enemy. They would say, “God has promised to help us, but we must do our part;” and so they would make every preparation for fighting. But these people at that time were just simple enough to take the Lord at His word; they knew that they must indeed do their part, but they knew that their part was to believe, and to go forward as though they did really believe. And they did believe. So strong was their faith that they sang. It was no forced song that was heard, weakly issuing from trembling lips, but a full, deep, spontaneous, hearty song of joy and victory, and all this while the enemy was before them in overwhelming numbers. And what was the result?
“And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them; and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped.”
As soon as they began to sing, the enemy was overthrown. A panic seized the host of Ammonites and Moabites, and they beat down one another. It may well be that, when they heard the songs and shouts of joy, they thought that Israel had received reinforcements, and such was the case. The people of Israel had such reinforcements that they did not need to do any fighting themselves. Their faith was their victory, and their singing was the evidence of their faith.
This is a lesson for us in our conflicts with our adversaries—principalities and powers and wicked spirits. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you;” but we are to “resist steadfast in the faith.” Only such resistance will cause him to flee, for he knows that he is stronger than we; but when he is resisted in the faith of Jesus, he must flee, for he knows that he has no strength at all against Christ. And so we learn again that “the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion.” In such experiences as that just considered, the Lord was showing Israel how they should overcome, and that He was always waiting and anxious to complete the promise made to the fathers.