Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, August 2nd, 1896,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
On Thursday Evening, July 22nd, 1886.
"Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me."--1 Kings 12:24.
IT IS VERY DELIGHTFUL to read a history in which God is made prominent. How sadly deficient we are of such histories of our own English nation! Yet surely there is no story that is more full of God than the record of the doings of our British race. Cowper, in one of his poems, shows the parallel between us and the house of Israel, and he dwells upon various special incidents in our history, and draws valuable lessons therefrom. God's wisdom and power have been conspicuous from the time when this now full-grown nation was but like a puling chit. He has nursed and watched over it, protecting it against gigantic foes, and making it to be the defender of his truth, the favored abode of his people. Oh, for a historian who could dip his pen in thoughts of God, and who, from beginning to end of his history, would not be showing us the crafty policy of kings and cabinets, but the finger of God! We want, nowadays, to have history written in some such style as appears in these Books of Samuel, and Kings, and Chronicles; then might history become almost like a new Bible to us. We should find that, as the book of revelation agrees with the book of creation, so does the book of divine providence in human history agree with both of them, for the same God is the Author of all these works. If we cannot get anybody to write such histories, yet let us continually amend the errata, and add appendices to such records as we have, for God is God, and God is everywhere, and blessed is the man who learns to spy him out.
Notice, next, what I pointed out to you in our reading, what power was possessed by God's prophets under the Old Testament. Here is one Shemaiah,--some of you never heard of him before, perhaps you will never hear of him again; he appears once in this history, and then he vanishes; he comes, and he goes,--only fancy this one man constraining to peace a hundred and eighty thousand chosen men, warriors ready to fight against the house of Israel, by giving to them in very plain, unpolished words, the simple command of God: "Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel: return every man to his house;" and it is added, "they hearkened therefore to the Word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the Word of the Lord." Why have we not such power? Peradventure, brethren, we do not always speak in the name of the Lord, or speak God's Word as God's Word. If we are simply tellers out of our own thoughts, why should men mind us? If we speak the word which we ourselves have fashioned, what is there in our anvil that it should command respect for what we make upon it? But if we can rise to the height of this great argument, and speak the truth as messengers of God, and there leave it, believing in it ourselves, and expecting great results from it, I wot that there will come more from our ministries than we have ever seen as yet. When the apostle Peter spoke to the lame man at the temple gate, he said, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk;" and he did rise up and walk because the name of Jesus Christ was relied upon; and we have need to preach the gospel, not as though our suasion, much less our oratory, were to prevail with men, but believing that there is an intrinsic power in the gospel, and that God the Holy Ghost will go with it to work the divine purpose, and accomplish the decrees of the Most High. We have need to stand near to God, and to be more completely overshadowed by his presence, and to be ourselves more fully believers in the Divine Majesty, and then shall we see greater things than these. Surely, God must have meant that, under the New Testament, there should be a power in his Word even greater than that which rested on it under the Old Testament.
Note one more lesson conveyed by this incident. It would be a grand thing to preach only one sermon, and to be as successful as Shemaiah was; it would be far better than to preach ten thousand, and to accomplish nothing by them all I hope the net result of our ministry will not be like that of the famous leader who with his troops marched up a hill and then marched down again. A man may take many years to say nothing, and he may very elaborately and very eloquently discharge himself of that which it was totally unnecessary for him to have said; but it would be better far to be surcharged with one message, and to deliver that one in the power of Almighty God, even if the speaker's voice is never heard again. I pray that those of us who do preach the gospel may preach each sermon as if that one discourse were worth a lifetime, worth the putting forth of every faculty that we possess, so that, if we never preached again, we might nevertheless have done a life-work in a single sermon. What an opportunity is mine to-night! What an opportunity you also will have, my brother, when you confront your congregation next Lord's-day, an opportunity which angels might envy you! Though you do not gather together a hundred and eighty thousand men, yet you may reach as many as that through the one sermon you are going to preach next Sabbath, for one person converted by the Holy Ghost, through you, may be the means of bringing in many others, and eventually there may come out of your one effort a harvest that cannot be counted. A forest once slept within a single acorn-cup. The beginning of the great lies in the little. Let us therefore earnestly pray God that we may preach as dying men to dying men, and deliver each discourse as if that one message was quite enough to serve for our whole life-work. We need not wish to preach another sermon provided we are enabled so to deliver that one that the purpose of God shall be accomplished by us, and the power of his Word shall be seen upon our hearers.
With these remarks by way of preliminary observations, I want to prove to you from our text that, first, some events are very specially from God; secondly, when they are seen to be from God, they are not to be fought against; and, thirdly, this general principle has many special applications, some of which we shall try to make.
I. First, SOME EVENTS ARE SPECIALLY FROM GOD: "This thing is from me."
I do not know what some people believe, for they seem to try to do without God altogether; but I believe that God is in all things,--that there is neither power, nor life, nor motion, nor thought, nor existence apart from him. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." By him all things exist and consist. Like foam upon the wave, all things would dissolve away did not God continue them, did not God uphold them. I see God in everything, from the creeping of an aphis upon a rose-bud to the fall of a dynasty. I believe that God is in the earthquake and the whirlwind; but I believe him to be equally in the gentlest zephyr, and in the fall of the sere leaf from the oak of the forest. Blessed is that man to whom there exists nothing in which he cannot see the presence of God. It makes this world a grand sphere when God is seen everywhere in it from the deepest mine to the remotest star. This earth is a wretched dark dungeon if once the light of the presence and the working of God be taken away from it.
Notice also, dear friends, that God is in events which are produced by the sin and the stupidity of men. This breaking up of the kingdom of Solomon into two parts was the result of Solomon's sin and Rehoboam's folly; yet God was in it: "This thing is from me, saith the Lord." God had nothing to do with the sin or the folly, but in some way which we can never explain, in a mysterious way in which we are to believe without hesitation, God was in it all. The most notable instance of this truth is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; that was the greatest of human crimes, yet it was foreordained and predetermined of the Most High, to whom there can be no such thing as crime, nor any sort of compact with sin. We know not how it is, but it is an undoubted fact that a thing may be from God, and yet it may be wrought, as we see in this case, by the folly and the wickedness of men; neither does this in the least degree interfere with human agency in its utmost freedom. Some who have held that man is a free agent have attempted to vindicate free agency as if predestination were the contradiction of it, which it is not; we who believe in predestination also believe in free agency as much as they do who reject the other truth. Others hold predestination, and straightway they begin to rail at all who believe in the responsibility and free agency of men. My brothers, there is nothing to rail at in either doctrine, the two things are equally true. "How, then," asks someone, "do you reconcile them?" These two truths have never fallen out, as far as I know, and it is poor work to try to reconcile those who are true friends. "But," says the objector, "how do you make them seem to be true friends?" I do not make them seem to be true friends. I bless God that there are some things in the Bible which I never expect to understand while I live here. A religion which I could perfectly understand would be no religion to me; when I had mastered it, it would never master me. But to my mind it is a most delightful thing for the believer to bow before inscrutable mysteries, and to say, "My God, I never thought that I was infinite, I never dreamt that I could take thy place, and understand all things; I believe, and I am content." So I believe in the free agency of men, in their responsibility and wickedness, and that everything evil cometh of them; but I also believe in God, that "this thing" which, on the one side of it, was purely and alone from men, on another side of it was still from God, who rules both evil and good, and not only walks the garden of Eden in the cool of a summer's eve, but walks the billows of the tempestuous sea, and ruleth everywhere by his sovereign might.
How, then, was "this thing" from God? Well, clearly, it was from God in two ways. First, it was so as a matter of prophecy. The prophet Ahijah had prophesied that the ten parts of the rent garment which were given to Jeroboam should be symbolic of the ten tribes that would be given to him when they had been torn away from the house of David. The prophecy was literally fulfilled, as God's words always are.
And, secondly, "this thing" was from God as a matter of punishment. He sent it as a punishment for the sins of the house of David of which Solomon had been guilty when he set up other gods before the Most High, and divided the allegiance of his kingdom from Jehovah by bringing in the gods of Moab, and Ammon, and Egypt. God ordained this evil that he might chastise the greater evil of want of loyalty to himself on the part of his servant Solomon. Yea, my brethren, God setteth evil against evil that he may destroy evil, and he uses that which cometh of human folly that he may manifest his own wisdom.
So there are some events which are specially from the Lord, although it seemeth not so; and this is to us often a great source of consolation. We have said to ourselves, "However did things get into this tangle and snarl?" Look at the professing church at this present moment, what is there about it that can at all cheer the child of God? All things appear dark and complicated; they seem to be built on a quicksand; and that which is superficial, and unsubstantial, and dreamy, and deceptive is everywhere. Still, the Lord liveth, and the rock of our salvation faileth not. As he makes the wrath of man to praise him, so doth he also with the folly and the wickedness of man, and the remainder of both he doth restrain. "The Lord sitteth upon the floods; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever." Hallelujah!
II. The second thing evidently taught by our text is that, WHEN EVENTS ARE SEEN TO BE FROM THE LORD, THEY ARE NOT TO BE FOUGHT AGAINST.
Rehoboam had summoned his soldiers to go to war against the house of Israel; but, inasmuch as it was from God that the ten tribes had revolted from him, he must not march into the territories of Israel, nor even shoot an arrow against them.
The thing that is happening to you is of the Lord, therefore resist it not, for it would be wicked to do so. If it be the Lord's will, so may it be. To put our will against his will, is sheer rebellion against him. Trace an event as distinctly from God, and then the proper course of action is that which the psalmist took, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it." Absolute submission is not enough, we must go on to joyful acquiescence in the will of God. If the cup be bitter, our acquiescence must take it as cheerfully as if it were sweet. "Hard lines," say you. "To hard hearts," say I; but when our hearts are right with God, so well do we love him that, if it ever came to a conflict anywhere, whether it should be our will or his will that should prevail, we should at once end the conflict by saying, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." It is nothing but wickedness, whatever form it assumes, when we attempt to resist the will of God.
But, next, while it is wicked, it is also vain, for what can we do against the will of God? Shall the rush by the river resist the north wind? Shall the dust rise up in conflict with the tempest? God is almighty; if that were all, it were enough, for who can stand against his power? But he is also all-wise; and if we were as wise as he is, we should do as he does. Moreover, he is all goodness, and he is ever full of love. Judged of according to the divine understanding, everything that he willeth must be right. Why, then, shall I dare contend against his strength, his wisdom, and his love? It must be useless so to do. Who hath resisted his will? Who could succeed if he did?
Next, it would be mischievous, and would be sure to bring a greater evil upon us if we did resist. Had this king Rehoboam gone out to fight with the far greater tribes which had revolted, it might have resulted in the desolation of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. He was much wiser in putting up his sword into its sheath, for it would have been disastrous to the last degree for him to break the command of God, and go to war against Israel. And depend upon it, brothers, there is no way of bringing afflictions upon ourselves like refusing to bear afflictions. If we will not bear the yoke that is laid upon us, and heed the gentle tugging of the rein, then the goad and the whip will be used upon us. Nothing involves us in so much sorrow as our refusal to submit to sorrow. If we will not take up the cross, the cross, mayhap, will take us up; and that is a far worse lot than the other. Endure, submit, acquiesce, it is the easiest way, after all; for if thou art a child of God, and thou rebellest against him, thou wilt have to smart for it. But if thou art not his child, and thou rebellest, like proud Pharaoh, God will set thee up to be a monument for men to wonder at as they see how sternly Jehovah dealeth with stubborn sinners who say, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" Whenever, therefore, a thing is distinctly from the Lord, it is not to be resisted.
III. Now I come to what may be more interesting to you, that is, to make a practical application of this subject, for THIS GENERAL PRINCIPLE HAS MANY SPECIAL APPLICATIONS. I believe it often happens that events are most distinctly from the Lord, and when it is so, our right and proper way is to yield to them.
I could narrate many very singular things that have happened to me, but I will not; only I am reminded just now of one that I will tell you. There sat, one Sabbath day, in that left-hand gallery, a young Hindoo gentleman wearing a scarlet sash. I preached that morning from this text, "What if thy father answer thee roughly?"* and I had hardly reached the vestry at the back before this young Hindoo gentleman was there with an aged man, who is now with God,--a well-known Christian man,--and all in a hurry the young man said, "Sir, has Mr. E_____ told you about me?" "No," I said, "I have not seen him for months; what could he have told me about you?" "Are you sure that you never heard of me before?" "To my knowledge, I never heard of you, and never saw you before." "Well then, sir," he said, "there is a God, and that God is in this place." "How so?" I asked. "Last night, I told this gentleman here," he answered, "that I was almost persuaded to be a Christian; but that, when I went home to India, I should be disinherited by my father, and I felt sure that I should not have the courage to stand out as a Christian; and then my friend said, 'Come and hear Mr. Spurgeon to-morrow morning,' and I came in here, and you preached from those words, 'What if thy father answer thee roughly?' Verily," he said, "the God of the Christians is God, and he has spoken to me this day." That was another illustration of our text, "This thing is from me." Has it not often happened so? The providential working of the Holy Ghost is a very wonderful subject. They who are the Holy Ghost's servants learn to depend upon him for every word they are to utter; they sometimes feel their flesh creep, and almost every hair on their head stand on end at the way in which they have unconsciously spoken so as to depict to the very life the character of their hearers,--casual hearers, perhaps,--as if they had photographed them though they knew them not. Oh, you who are the Lord's workers, commit yourselves to God's guidance; the more you can do it, the better, for often and often you will have to say of an event that happens to you, "This thing is from the Lord."
Again, dear friends, another case in which this principle applies is when severe afflictions arise. I think that, of all afflictions to which we should bow most readily, those take the first place that are distinctly from the Lord; for instance, the deaths of dear friends, or when we cannot accuse ourselves of having done anything that can have contributed to the affliction that has come upon us, or when we have suffered losses in business though we have been engaged honestly and industriously in doing all we can to provide things honest in the sight of all men. There are some afflictions which remind me of a term which I have seen in the charters of ships,--"the act of God." Certain calamities at sea are called "the act of God." So there are certain events in life which may be very terrible and very sorrowful, but if they are the act of God, they come to us thus distinguished, "This is from God." Will you not accept it from the Lord?" Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" Will we not say, with Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord"? "This thing is from me." O thou who art his child, accept the chastisement from thy Father's hand, and kiss the rod with which he smites thee!
Sometimes, also, we are troubled by certain disquieting plans proposed by our friends or our children. We do not like their schemes, and we say, "No, do not act so; it seems to me to be quite wrong;" yet, sometimes, a boy will do this and that; or a friend has made up his mind to take a certain course, and, at last, when you have pleaded, and persuaded, and urged, and done your best to turn them from their purpose, if the thought should creep into your mind, "Peradventure, this thing is from God," then stay your persuasions, as Paul's friends when he would not be persuaded, ceased to argue with him. Sometimes, that which seems to be a great mistake may, nevertheless, in the hand of God, prove to be the right course; our judgment is but fallible, but the judgment of the Most High is always correct. Struggle not too long, lest thou bring thyself into another sorrow; but be willing to yield at the right time, saying, "Peradventure, this thing is from the Lord."
A very pleasant phase of this same truth is when some singular mercy comes. Have not many of you experienced some very remarkable deliverances? Has not God been pleased to open for you rivers in the desert, and waters in high places, where waters are not usually found? Well, whenever singular and startling mercy comes to you, say, "This is from God." It is a delightful thing when you get a present from a very choice friend who says, "This is from me." You value it all the more because of the person from whom it comes. If thou hast nothing but a crust of bread, take thy knife and cut it, and say, "This is from the Lord." But if he has given thee a downy bed on which to rest thy weary limbs, and if he has indulged thee with many luxuries, say thou, "This is from the Lord," and everything shall be the brighter and the better to thee because he gave it. It is the best part of the gift. Often, a little thing, which we might despise in itself, becomes invaluable because of the giver; and all thy life shall be full of rich treasure, ay, with very "curios" worthy to be stored away, and looked at with admiration throughout the rest of thy days, because "This is from me," is so clearly written upon them all.
Still applying the principle of our text, let me remind you that, when a man receives a very striking warning, he ought to hear a voice at the back of it, saying, "This thing is from me." When near to die, wrecked, almost aground, or delivered out of an awful accident, if such has been thy case, hear thou, man, out of all the hurry-burly from which thou hast escaped, "This is from me." A soldier, who has heard the bullets whistle by his ear, or who comes out of a battle lopped of a limb but still alive, should hear this voice, "This is from me." Oh, that men would hear the voice of God, and turn from their sins! If the Lord has been so gracious as to spare thy life, count that his long-suffering means to thee repentance, and that his sparing thee is a call to thee to give up thy sins, and turn to him.
The same principle applies when it is not a striking warning, but when it happens that men have some tender emotions stealing over them. Some of you to whom I am speaking are unconverted, but there have been times when, in the house of God, you have felt very strangely. You may not have actually prayed, but you have almost prayed that you might pray. "Please God I once get home," you have said, "I will go to my room, and fall upon my knees before him." Have not even the most thoughtless of you, when alone, felt as if you must think? In the watches of the night, have you not been made to consider? A policeman, who came to join the church this week, said to me, "Often, when I tread my solitary beat, I feel as if I must think of God. He seems so very near me when there is not a sound to be heard except the tread of my own feet." Well, if ever you feel that, yield to it. O dear hearts, if ever you find an unusual softness stealing over you, do not resist it! It may be that it is the blessed Spirit come to emancipate you from your obstinacy and hardness, and to bring you into the new life,--the life of tenderness and love. When he draws thee, run after him. Let tender impulse and gentle drawing suffice thee, for all is for thy good. Yield yourselves to the Spirit's influence even now. While he bids thee, believe in Jesus, and live. While he whispers to thee, "Repent," repent, and be converted. God grant it, of his infinite mercy! Our time has gone; but may what has been spoken be remembered throughout eternity because it can truly be said, "This thing is from me, saith the Lord."
1 Kings 11:40-43; and 12.
God threatened Solomon, on account of his setting up other gods, that he would rend away a great part of the kingdom from him, and that he would set up another king in his place.
1 Kings 11:40-43. Solomon sought therefore to kill Jereboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, unto Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon. And the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon? And the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. And Solomon slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father: and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead.
After great mountains there usually come low hills. After Solomon comes Rehoboam. Grace does not run in the blood, we may be sure, for even human wisdom does not descend from father to son. There is no necessary transmission of gifts and talents, much less of grace, from one generation to another.
1 Kings 12:1-3. And Rehoboam went to Sheehem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;) that they sent and called him.
It was a sure sign of great discontent when the people sent for a rebel to be their spokesman.
3, 4. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, Thy father made our yoke grievous now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.
This was a very natural request; these Oriental monarchs took their thrones as by a kind of divine right, and there was a tendency among the people to demand something like a constitution, some regulations by which they should not be so heavily oppressed. I do not know whether they had been oppressed by Solomon or not; certainly, the realm as a whole was greatly enriched under his government; but the wisest ruler must not expect that he will have the uniform love of the people, there will be come discontented ones in every community.
5. And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.
One commentator says that it is the only sign of wisdom that there is in Rehoboam, that he took three days to consider the answer to this question. Peradventure, if he had answered it rightly, it would have been better if answered immediately. Still, it is a good rule, when there is an important question before you, to take time to consider it. The mischievous point is that Rehoboam did not wait upon God for guidance in this emergency. Had he been like his grandfather David, those three days would have been spent with God in prayer, and he would have come back, with a greater wisdom than even his father Solomon possessed, to answer the people in this thing. We often blunder over very ample matters when we speak without asking guidance of God; but in the most intricate circumstances our course will be perfectly clear if we commit our way unto the Lord.
6-8. And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people? And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever. But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:
He was probably a man forty years of age, and therefore no longer young; but he had all the while been playing the part of a young man. He had not been old in wisdom when he was young in years; it would have been well for him if he had been.
9-11. And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter? And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
Old men are not always wise, and young men are not always wise; he who consults with men only shall yet learn the truth of this verse, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." Among Rehoboam's counsellors, the old men had no real principle to guide them, they said to the king, in effect, "Just butter these people with soft words, delude and deceive them with the idea that you are going to yield to them, and then, when you once get the reins into your own hands, you can govern the nation as you like." This was a wicked policy; but the young men said to the king, "No, no, no; do not pretend that you will listen to the people. There is nothing like putting a bold face on it, and just letting the people know that you will not yield to them. They will be startled by what you say; have you not the authority and example of your father Solomon? Nobody ever dared speak a word of this kind to him, so do you put it down at once, and be bold." There is no principle, you see, about the advice in either case; it is all policy, but the latter policy is sure not to succeed. I counsel you, brother,--nay, I will give you no counsel except that I counsel you to take counsel of God. Wait upon him, for he knows what you should do in every difficulty that may arise. If Rehoboam had only had wit enough and grace enough to lay this case before his God he would have given him somewhat of the largeness of heart and the wisdom which he gave to his father Solomon.
12-15. So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day. And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men's counsel that they gave him; and spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD,
The great, deep, mysterious providence of God was quietly working even behind the folly and the domineering pride of this foolish man.
15, 16. That he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the Son of Nebat. So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.
He that speaks roughly must expect to be answered roughly. Let us learn from this incident as one might who sees the warning light of a beacon, and tacks his ship to avoid the rock on which it is placed.
17, 18. But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute;
Having made trouble, the king tried to make piece. He selected one of the ancient officers of his father Solomon to be his ambassador, but he selected the very worst that he could have found, "Adoram, who was over the tribute." The man who had been a leader in exactions from the people, or who had been thought to be so, was not the one to act as peace-maker.
18-20. And all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day. And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.
See what mischief may be done by one foolish man; and let me add, see what evil may come of the ill conduct of a wise man. Some think that Rehoboam was Solomon's only son, though he had a multitude of wives. That I cannot tell: but it is a singular thing that so wise a man should have but one son mentioned here, and that he should be such a foolish one. Yet what could be expected to come out of such a family as Solomon's was? He whose own house is so disorderly as his was, must expect that those who come after him will be no better than they should be. Blessed is that home where the Lord is the Master, where his law is loved, and his word is obeyed.
21-24. And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying Speak unto Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and unto all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the remnant of the people, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.
It is a very striking fact that this one prophet did but speak in God's name, and that vast host disbanded in obedience to his word. It gives us some hope concerning Rehoboam, yet we cannot be cure that it was he who was thus obedient to the prophet. The people may have been better than their king; at any rate, they did not fight against their brethren, but they went their way. Oh, that God's servants in these days could speak with anything like such power as Shemaiah possessed!
25-27. Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and went out from thence, and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.
Jeroboam is moved by policy, you see. It is very hard, I believe, to be a ruler over men, and yet to be a servant of God. There seems to be connected with politics in every country something that besmears the mind, and defiles the hand that touches it. The king of Judah had but little wit, and this king of Israel has too much cunning; he is a far-seeing man, and perceives that, if the people go up to Jerusalem to worship, they may by-and-by return to their allegiance to the house of David.
28. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
Truly, history repeats itself, only, if it be bad history, it is apt to grow worse. "Behold thy gods O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." This is almost exactly what they said in Aaron's days, when he made the ox which Scripture sarcastically calls a calf, the Egyptian image of strength. Jeroboam makes not merely one calf, but two; and he speaks of them in nearly the same language as they used concerning the golden calf in the wilderness: "Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."
29, 30. And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Daniel And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.
I suppose that Jeroboam did not mean to draw them away from worshipping Jehovah; but he would have Jehovah worshipped under some visible image, and not according to the rule which God had laid down. That is just where mischief often begins, both in the church and in the world. Men are willing to worship God if they are allowed to have a ritual and symbols which they have themselves devised; so, instead of the divine simplicity of the New Testament, they have many things added, things to please the taste, aesthetic, beautiful, sensuous; all of which take off the mind from that sublime worship of the invisible God which alone can be acceptable before him. It is not for us to determine how we will worship God; we are to worship him after his own manner, for his commandments are still in force: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them."
"Well, but the cross," someone says, "surely that is a truly venerable symbol?" Let it be as venerable as you please; but we must not use it in divine worship. The ox was supposed to set forth strength; surely it was an admirable emblem of the Almighty, yet God pours contempt upon it when he bids his inspired servants to speak of it as the image of an ox that eateth grace, as if that could be any symbol of the Most High! "This thing became a sin."
31. And he made an house of high places and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.
For the sons of Levi went over to Judah, and remained faithful to God; and the better sort of people probably dreaded to assume the office to which God had called the sons of Levi, and none would undertake it but the very lowest of the people.
32. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah,
He shifted the month, but retained the day,--the fifteenth day of the eighth month instead of the seventh. "That was quite unimportant," say some. I do not agree with them, for nothing is unimportant that has to do with the law of God's house. Disobedience may be more plainly seen in some of the non-essentials than in an essential thing. At all events, we have no right to alter jot or tittle of the divine command.
32, 33. And he offered upon the altar. So did he in Beth-el, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Beth-el the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Beth-el the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart;
It is a strong condemnation of anything in religion if it be devised by a man's own heart. We are to do what God bids us, as God bids us, when God bids us, and because God bids us; but that which is merely of our own free will, ordained and manufactured by ourselves, is practically the worship of ourselves, and not the worship of God.
33. And ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.
Thus Israel was led astray at the very beginning. She came to the turning of the roads, and took the wrong course, and she went from bad to worse. God save all of us from following her evil example, but may we all serve the one living and true God, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"--71 (Song I), 208, 211.
* See Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1,188, "A Word for the Persecuted."