Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
SOLOMON'S PRAYER. 2 Chronicles 6:22-42.
This is the longest prayer in the Old Testament, and may be fitly compared with the longest in the New, as recorded in John 17. Both are intercessory and provisional. This temple, prepared for God and filled with His glory (v. 14), is a wonderful type of the person and character of the Lord Jesus Christ. What the temple was to Israel, Christ is to the world. What Solomon did on the brazen scaffold (v. 3), Christ did on the accursed tree—open the way for others into the place of blessing. This prayer of Solomon, like the work of Christ, revealed a large and cosmopolitan heart. In it, there was provision made for the—
I. Maligned. "If a man sin against his neighbor,... and an oath be laid,... then hear You and judge" (v. 22). To sin against our neighbor is to sin against God, so those sinned against may confidently appeal to Him, and expect that He will "requite the wicked, and justify the righteous (v. 14). As in Solomon's prayer there was provision made for the maintenance of the character of the righteous, so is there also in the intercession of Christ. Those wronged by their neighbors should believingly commit their case unto the Lord. He will avenge His own.
II. Defeated. Those "put to the worse before the enemy" (v. 24). This is a numerous class. Many there be who have fallen before the power of the enemy, "because they have sinned against God." Sin always leads to defeat (Joshua 7:10, 11). For God's people to be put to the worse before the enemy is to bring dishonor upon the Holy Name. He would have us to be "more than conquerors." But at the temple altar there was a way back for the vanquished to forgiveness and victory. By their returning and confessing God would hear and forgive, and restore them again to the land which He gave them (vv. 24, 25). It mattered not how far they had been driven away by the enemy if they turned their faces towards the House of God, confessing their sins, then deliverance was to be granted them. So may those be saved who have been overcome by temptation and sin, by turning the eye of faith to the provision made by Jesus Christ at the altar of the Cross.
III. Thirsty. "When the Heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You" (v. 26). God had different ways of manifesting His displeasure at sin. In a spiritual sense Heaven is still shut up, so that no refreshing rain comes upon the soul of the disobedient and the backsliding. A silent and unresponsive Heaven is a fearful calamity to a thirsty soul, but this thirst is meant to bring us back in heart to the place of confession and blessing. "Then hear You, and forgive,... and send rain" (v. 27). The way to escape the horrors of a closed-up Heaven is to keep in "the good way" of the Lord. Abide in Him. If spiritual dearth has come, there is still in Christ provision for restoration and refreshing. "Look unto Me, and be you saved."
IV. Oppressed. "When the enemies besiege them in the cities of their land;... when every one shall spread forth his hands towards this house, then hear You" (vv. 28-30). The people of God were not exempt from trial and suffering, even in their own cities—in the very midst of all their joys and privileges. Solomon believes that, if the enemy is permitted to besiege them and oppress them, it would be on account of their sin, for in his prayers he says, "When You nearest, forgive." No enemy is able to besiege and imprison any soul that is walking in fellowship with God. It is ever a wile of the Devil to get between us and Him who is the home of our hearts. But if you are really besieged so that you have no liberty to go out and in, in your service for God—out of communication, with head-quarters—then here is the remedy: Spread forth the hands of your faith toward the dwelling-place of God, and forgiveness and deliverance will be yours.
V. Stranger. Even "the stranger which is not of Your people" finds a place in the large heart of this King of Peace. What good news it would be to the stranger who had "come from a far country," drawn by the influence of God's "great name" and "mighty hand," to find that the gate of divine blessing was open for him, and that God was willing to do "according to all that the stranger called to You for" (v. 33). Did not the Ethiopian take advantage of this provision when he came to Jerusalem for to worship? (Acts 8:27). It is still true that those born in the far country of sin, and who are strangers to God and to His people, may have their needs supplied by calling upon the Lord. "Him that comes unto Me, I will in no wise cast out." "He! every one that thirsts, come you to the waters." "You who sometimes were far off are made near by the Blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13).
VI. Warrior. "Then if Your people go to war... by the way that You shall send them, and pray unto You toward this city,... then hear, and maintain their cause" (vv. 34, 35). It is of the utmost importance that in going out in holy warfare we should go by the way that God has sent us. The Christian life is a warfare, but not with carnal weapons. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand. Praying always with all prayer, that "He may hear from the Heavens your prayer and supplication, and maintain your cause" (v. 35). In Solomon's prayer, as in the work of Christ, there is provision made for certain victory in battling for the Lord. Warriors for God; keep your face towards the holy place of sacrifice and fellowship, and He will maintain your cause.
VII. Captives. "If they sin against You,... and their enemies carry them away captives, yet if they bethink themselves... and turn and pray unto You,... then hear You, and maintain their cause, and forgive" (vv. 36-39). The Lord's people could never be taken away as captives so long as they were obedient to His will. Sin leads to separation from God, and when separated from Him we become an easy prey to the enemy. The only hope for those led captive by the Devil, or the pleasures of the world? is to bethink themselves, and turn to the Lord, saying, "We have sinned, we have done amiss." If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive. The fire that "came down from Heaven" (chapter 7:1) when Solomon had made an end of praying was the token that his prayer was heard, and that God was ready to do all that had been asked. The coming of the Holy Spirit from Heaven, after Christ had finished His work, is the proof to us that God is ready to fulfill to us all the desires of His heart. "If you ask anything in My Name, I will do it."
ASA'S FAITH AND FAILURE. 2 Chronicles 14-16.
In these chapters we have a faithful biography of Asa. The features of his character, both good and bad, are equally prominent. In the Bible there is no touching up of the negative to give the photograph a more pleasing appearance. As an historian the Spirit of God knows nothing of the are of flattery. As a man is in his heart so is he before God. The life of Asa is full of encouragement and warning to us. We observe his—
I. Good Character. "Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God" (chapter 14:2). This was a noble start. He refused to be guided by the light of his own eyes, or by the opinions and prejudices of others. It is a good thing to remember that the eyes of the Lord are ever in search of those whose hearts are right with Him, that He might show Himself strong in their behalf (chapter 16:9). Right thinking will lead to right acting, and God's strength is on the side of the righteous. Asa not only "broke down the images," he also "commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers." It is not enough to put away the wrong. We must seek the right. To give up our idols will avail us nothing unless we turn to God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
II. Great Faith. Asa's faith was put to the test when his army of 580,000 was met by 1,000,000 Ethiopians and 300 chariots, but it stood the test. "Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with You to help, whether with many or with them that have no power. We rest on You, and in Your Name we go against this multitude" (vv. 11, 12). He looks upon the many as nothing, but the "help of God" as everything. To have God's help is to get an almighty lift. The way to secure His help is to "rest on Him," and go in His Name. This is the work of faith, and faith gains the day, for the "Lord smote the Ethiopians before Asa." He did it, for Asa rested on Him, and trusted in His Name to do it. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith."
III. Timely Warning. "The Spirit of God came upon Azariah, and he went out to meet Asa, and said, Hear you me, Asa, the Lord is with you while you be with Him...Be you strong therefore,... for your work shall be rewarded" (chapter 15:1-7). This is emphatically a Spirit-inspired message. Why did it come to Asa immediately after his great victory of faith? Because the Spirit of God knew that at that moment there was a danger of him being lifted up with pride, and of falling back into a state of self-confidence. Oh, how anxious the Holy Spirit still is to maintain our faith in God, that His Name might be honored by doing great things for us! "If you would believe, you should see the glory of God" (John 11:40). Take heed how you hear.
IV. Mighty Influence. "They fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that the Lord his God was with him" (v. 9). Many strangers from the kingdom of Israel joined the ranks of the king of Judah when they saw that God was on his side. Those who gain victories by faith are the most influential of all leaders. All are not born leaders. Many are ready to follow a tune who could never raise it. But the supernatural element must be self-evident in the divinely appointed leader. "My sheep," says Christ, "hear My voice, and they follow Me." Are there not many who would fall out of the kingdom of darkness today if they could but see that the Lord our God is with us? Not with us in theory, but in mighty conquering deeds. Asa's influence was not only attractive, but it was most effectual in turning the whole heart of Judah unto the Lord (vv. 12-14). He constrained them to seek the Lord until "He was found of them." He used his great influence for the best of all purposes—to bring men to God.
V. Sudden Failure. When "Baasha, king of Israel, came up against Judah... Asa brought out silver and gold out of the treasures of the house of the Lord, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria" (chapter 16:1-4). This was a bribe sent to the king of Syria to help him against the king of Judah. Has he forgotten already that Spirit-inspired message of Azariah? (chapter 15:1, 2). Where is his faith now? He began in the spirit. Is he going to end in the flesh? His present unbelief leads him to desecrate the things of God (chapter 15:18). When in his greater trouble with the Ethiopian host he cried unto the Lord and rested on Him, but this is not such a formidable affair, so he thinks to manage it by his own skill and stratagem. God is ignored, and Asa has fallen from grace. Our greatest dangers do not always lie in our greatest temptations, for when we are made conscious of our own helplessness in the face of a great trial, we fortify ourselves by leaning upon God. It is thinking ourselves wise enough and strong enough for the petty occasion that our greatest danger lies. "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:6).
VI. Rebellious Attitude. When Hanani the seer rebuked Asa "because he had relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord his God," Asa, we read, "was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house, for he was in a rage with him because of this thing" (chapter 16:7-10). It is an infallible sign of backsliding when a man gets into a rage at the seer of God because he tells him the truth. Casting the man of vision into the prison does not make the vision any the less true. The man of faith will always be a seer, while the man of unbelief will always be blind. Asa makes no attempt to bribe the seer, but he attempts to bridle his lips. Instead of repenting his folly in putting his trust in an arm of flesh, he seeks to justify himself, even to the condemnation of the warning voice of God. To get beyond repentance is to get beyond the hope of recovery. "If we sin we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous" (1 John 2:1).
VII. Miserable End. "Asa... was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceedingly great, yet in his disease he sought not the Lord, but to the physicians" (v. 12). His sin lay not in seeking the help of the physicians, but in not seeking the help of the Lord. Had not his heart been diseased as well as his feet this sin would never have been laid to his charge. A physician may be a gift from God as much as a seer, but when we trust the gift instead of the Giver, we dishonor God, and expose ourselves to failure and death. It is a melancholy fact that this otherwise great and good man's life is closed with these sorrowful words, "He sought not the Lord." "Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Remember the words of the son of Oded, "The Lord is with you while you be with Him" (2 Chronicles 15:2).
JEHOSHAPHAT, THE BACKSLIDER. 2 Chronicles 17, 18.
"The whole Cross is more easily carried than the half. It is the man who tries to make the best of both worlds, who makes nothing of either."—Drummond.
Of how many of God's people it may be said, as was said of the Galatians, "You did run well: who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth?" Although there are always about us hindrances in abundance, that is no reason why those gifted with the wings of faith should be hindered in their spiritual life. Jehoshaphat, like Asa, began well, but his bright morning soon became clouded with the sorrows of failure. His character affords us both encouragement and warning. We see him—
I. Highly Honored. "The Lord was with him" (chapter 17:3). The presence of God with us is an absolute guarantee of success and sufficiency. The reason why God companied with him was "because he walked in the first ways of his father David." The first ways of David, and of his father Asa, were their best days, when their hearts were simple and perfect toward the Lord. He did not make their sins an excuse for not following after the righteousness of God. The blemishes of others are often made a stumbling-block to their virtues. Christ is the only perfect example.
II. Greatly Encouraged. "His heart was encouraged in the ways of the Lord" (v. 6, margin). When Uzziah was made strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction (chapter 26:16). When pride lifts the heart, it is lifted out of the ways of the Lord into the way that leads to defeat and death. It is while we are in the ways of the Lord that we may confidently expect His uplifting. The Lord is not going to encourage that man whose manner of life is opposed to His will. "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4).
III. Unequally Yoked. "Now Jehoshaphat joined affinity with Ahab" (chapter 18:1). Now, when he "had riches and honor in abundance." Ahab was well known as an enemy to Jehovah. "He did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings that were before him" (1 Kings 16:33). After the friendship was formed there came, of course, the fellowship. "He went down to Ahab to Samaria." The ungodly Ahabs are ever ready enough to have the servants of God to come down to their level. Nehemiah joined no affinity with Tobiah and Sanballat. His answer to them was, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. What fellowship has light with darkness? The darkness may need the light badly, but the light can have no fellowship with the darkness. While Christ lived on earth He was constantly walking amidst the dense darkness of human sin and guilt, but He had no fellowship with it. No more can you.
IV. Wholly Surrendered. Not to God, but to the scheming, unprincipled Ahab. How are the mighty fallen? "Will you go with me," said Ahab, and Jehoshaphat answered him, "I am as you are" (chapter 18:3). Compromising has resulted in a voluntary captivity. Yet, at bottom, this answer is false, for the man who has known the power and fellowship of God can never be as that man who has ever been a stranger to God. We sell our liberty in Christ whenever we become the bondslave of any man, or the tool of prejudice or fashion. The fear of man brings a snare. As long as Jehoshaphat was pledged to help Ahab, he was useless to help the cause of God. One is your Master, even Christ. Say to Him, "I am as You are" (2 Chronicles 18:3).
V. Secretly Dissatisfied. When Jehoshaphat proposed that inquiry should be made at the Word of the Lord, Ahab at once "gathered together of prophets four hundred men" (v. 5). These unsent prophets were quite unanimous that it was the mind of Jehovah (whom they knew nothing about) that they should "go up." To the king of Judah the testimony of those four hundred prophets sounded so formal and hollow that he knew there was no message from God in it. Neither numbers nor unanimity can constitute the authority of God. Ahab's prophets were ordained to preach "smooth things," and they did it. Jehoshaphat said, "Is there not a prophet of the Lord besides that we may inquire of him?" (v. 6). Four hundred worldly, men-pleasing preachers may be enough to keep an ecclesiastical machine going, but they are not enough to meet the needs of one single anxious soul who desires to know the mind and will of God. Words are not enough to bring settled conviction into the soul. The Christian who is satisfied with a formal powerless ministry has gone farther away from God than Jehoshaphat.
VI. Shamefully Exposed. "The captain of the chariots compassed him about, but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him" (vv. 30, 31). The king of Israel disguised himself, but an arrow shot at a venture found him out. Jehoshaphat confessed and was saved. Be sure your sin will find you out. But what a sorry part the king of Judah plays in this affair! What a picture of abject helplessness in the face of the enemy—he is utterly demoralized. Who is so powerless in the presence of temptation or opposition as the backslider? Yet, when their sin and folly is acknowledged before God, how ready He is to stretch forth His hand and help. Unbelief makes cowards of us all (v. 32).
JEHOSHAPHAT, THE OVERCOMER. 2 Chronicles 19, 20.
Although Jehoshaphat, through his affinity with Ahab, fell into the mire, we do not find him wallowing in it. He must have been deeply ashamed on his return to Jerusalem, when Jehu, the son of the seer, met him with that sharp rebuke, "Should you help the ungodly?" (v. 2). But this good thing was found in him; he had already "prepared his heart to seek God" (v. 3), and God had already marked his repentance. As we have noted in our last study his steps down to failure and shame, we shall note now his upward steps of faith to victory and joy. His work of faith is seen in—
I. Seeking the Restoration of Others. "Jehoshaphat went out again through the people,... and brought them back unto the Lord God" (chapter 19:4). If they had been led away from the Lord through his evil example, now that he was restored in heart, he loses no time in using his influence for their good. The best work we can do for our fellow men is to bring them back to God. In bringing them to Him, we bring them to the source of peace, power, and plenty. We may bring them back to sobriety, and to the Church, without bringing them back to God. Those who seek to bring men to God show their faith in Him.
II. Justifying the Ways of God. "Now let the fear of the Lord be with you,... for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts" (v. 7). These words were spoken to the judges in the land. The basis of their actions was to be the righteousness of God. There is no false dealings with Him, no respect of persons, no taking of bribes. Jehoshaphat found this out to his sorrow and loss when he joined affinity with Ahab, and went to war with him, although Micaiah had warned him in the Name of God about it. But he has learned a lesson, so he now testifies that there is no unrighteousness with God. He will not be bribed to "help the ungodly." "He is the Rock, His work is perfect, a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He" (Deuteronomy 32:4).
III. Warning them of the Evils of Backsliding. "Warn them that they trespass not against the Lord, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren" (v. 10). "Burnt bairns dread the fire." The king has learned by bitter experience that there is a vital connection between the trespass of men and the wrath of God. Man cannot sin with impunity. He who goes over the fence of God's will, the serpent of sin will surely bite him. Outside the will of God is always forbidden ground; it leads to Doubting Castle and the tortures of Giant Despair.
IV. Seeking the Help of God in the Day of Trouble. "After this the children of Moab and the children of Ammon... came against Jehoshaphat to battle" (chapter 20:1). After this—after he had decided to follow the Lord fully—the testing time came. The trial of your faith is more precious than gold. The time was when he might have appealed to Ahab for help, having made a treaty with him, but he looks away from man, and "sets himself to seek the Lord" (v. 3). His example is followed by the whole nation, for they "gathered themselves together to ask help of the Lord" (v. 4). Nations, as well as individuals, must believe in the Lord to be saved. The man of faith knows no other refuge than God Himself (Psalm 46:1). He appeals to God (1) as the Almighty One (v. 6); (2) as the Faithful One (v. 7); (3) as the Trusted One. "Our eyes are upon You" (v. 12). Whatever your trouble is, seek help from God, and expect it.
V. Answered Prayer. Jehoshaphat's faith in God is further evidenced by this sudden answer to his prayer. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel, as he stood in the midst of the congregation, with this message, "Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's" (vv. 14, 15). As soon as Jehoshaphat had put his trust in the Lord the battle became His. God takes over the responsibilities of those who cast all their care upon Him. All the man of faith had to do was to "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" (v. 17). How this was to be done they knew not; it was enough for him that God had promised to do it (Exod. 14:13, 14). Christ fought for us the battle of sin and death. "You shall not need to fight in this battle."
VI. Humble Acceptance. In acknowledgment of God's wondrous grace, he "Bowed his head with his face to the ground,... worshiping the Lord" (v. 18). The revelation of God's saving power has always a head-bowing and heart-hallowing effect upon those to whom it comes in answer to faith and prayer. The true attitude of spiritual victors is that of worshipers. The more deeply we drink of the river of His grace, the more readily shall we bow and worship. He who humbled Himself to the Cross for us has given the death-blow to our pride and self-sufficiency.
VII. Faithful Testimony. "Hear me, O Judah, Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you be established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper" (v. 20). Jehoshaphat has proved for himself the truth of this, he speaks from experience. Faith in God must lead to faith in His prophets. The fruit of faith is not weakness and instability, but strength and prosperity. The Bible affords us many examples of those who have been strengthened and made successful through their faith in God (see Hebrews 11). "Therefore be not slothful, but followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6:12).
VIII. Joyful Expectation. "Faith laughs at impossibilities, and says, It shall be done." He believed God, and rejoiced in the hope of a glorious victory. This is seen in his "appointing singers unto the Lord, to go out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord" (v. 21). Happy is that man who can sing praise to God for His bare word of promise, and go on expecting miracles to be wrought. He shall not be disappointed. "Believe, and you shall see." "When they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the enemy,... and they were smitten" (v. 22). "Then they returned with joy" (v. 27). If the singers had been defeated, then might the enemies of the Bible rejoice; but the God of the Old Testament never fails to fulfill the expectations of all those who trust Him. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.
UZZIAH; or, FAILURE THROUGH PRIDE. 2 Chronicles 26.
Uzziah was but a lad of sixteen when he was crowned king of Judah. His reign was a long one, extending over fifty-two years. It was good for him that he came under the godly influence of the clear-visioned Zechariah, the burden of whose message was, "If you forsake the Lord you cannot prosper" (chapter 24:20). Who can reckon up the full value of that life, which has been illumined with a definite message from God. Zechariah's word had burned its way into the heart of young Uzziah, for in his days he sought God (v. 5). The story of his life reveals to us—
I. An Encouraging Testimony. The writer of the Chronicles tells us that, "As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper" (v. 5). As long as God got His true place in the life and work of Uzziah, there were no interruptions to the steady march of his rising prosperity. All true and abiding prosperity is "God-made," and the condition of it is seeking to know and how to do His will. Mark that it was "as long as he sought the Lord," and no longer that the divine blessing rested on him and his work. It is ours to go on trusting; it is His to go on blessing.
II. An Assuring Confirmation. "He was marvelously helped until he was strong" (v. 15). God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians (v. 7), to build towers, and to dig many wells (v. 10). He also gave him a great host "that made war with mighty power to help him against the enemy" (v. 13). The help of God is intensely practical. They are always marvelously helped that are helped of God. It is surely God's purpose to make those strong who seek Him, that His will may be done in them. God will still bear them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts (distributions) of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:4). "Be you strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."
III. A Terrible Fall. "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction" (v. 16). It is a great privilege to be helped of God and made strong, but every privilege has its corresponding temptation and danger. Peter was made strong to walk on the sea, but even then he began to sink. Elijah was made strong to overcome the wicked works of Ahab, yet afterwards he fled before the wrath of Jezebel. Yes, Uzziah fell.
1. The Cause. "His heart was lifted up." Lifted up through pride and self-confidence. As long as he sought the honor of the Lord, God lifted him up, but now that he seeks to honor himself by assuming the priestly office he falls from the grace of God (v. 18). His position as king gave him no right as priest. A man's worldly position gives him no authority or fitness for the holy ministry. Uzziah, in his presumption, was setting aside the revealed will of God. He must have known that the Levites had been chosen of God from among the children of Israel to do the service of the tabernacle. A solemn warning had also been given: "The stranger that comes near shall be put to death" (Numbers 18:6, 7). But, in his own name, and in his own strength, he would go, so his pride led to his fall. It is of the nature of self-righteousness to despise the work and office of the Priestly Savior.
2. The Effect. "He was a leper unto the day of his death" (v. 21). He was wroth, and would not go back when Azariah the priest remonstrated with him, but when the Lord smote him with leprosy "he hastened to go out" (v. 20). Instead of his work being accepted of God, he was smitten with a curse, and driven out from His presence with a lifelong brand of sin upon him. Like many other lepers, the plague was in his head. Having been smitten with a sense of his presumption and sin, God did not need to cast him out of His holy place, for he himself hastened to go out. The holy presence of God is no place of comfort and rest for the unforgiven sinner. Heaven is no home for those who ignore the work of Christ, who is our Great High Priest. He is the One Mediator between God and man; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man can come unto the Father but by Him. It was Uzziah's own sin that "cut him off from the house of the Lord" (v. 21). It is the sin of putting proud self in the place of the Lord's Anointed that kindles the wrath of God, and cuts that soul off from fellowship with Him. The man who sets aside God's appointed way of life does it to his own destruction. "There is none other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."
HEZEKIAH; Or, FEATURES OF A REVIVAL. 2 Chronicles 28, 29.
Lamennais says, "Faith demands action, not tears; it demands of us the power of sacrifice—sole origin of our salvation; it seeks Christians capable of saying, 'We will die for this;' above all, Christians capable of saying, 'We will live tor this.' " The man who can truthfully say, "To me to live is Christ," is revealing Christianity in its sublimest form. Ritual and dogma may have their place, but if the individual life does not manifest itself in bringing glory to God and eternal blessing into the lives of sinful men, they are clouds without water. Hezekiah's revival work was the outcome of his own faith in the Living God— the faith which works by love. We shall try and find some helpful lessons here. We observe some—
I. Evidences that a Revival was Needed.
1. Holy Things are Cut in Pieces. "Ahaz... cut in pieces the vessels of the House of God" (chapter 28:24). These sacred things which had been so useful in the House and service of God became the objects of the wrath and hatred of those who despised Him, whose instruments they were. All those who are seeking to cast discredit upon the books of the Bible are, in their own way, attempting to "cut in pieces the vessels of the House of God." These sixty-six books, which compose the Bible, are so many vessels needed in the House of God for the work of the ministry. Every servant of God is also a vessel in His House, and the ungodly still try, with the sharp tongue of scorn and calumny, to cut their testimony in pieces.
2. The Way of Access is Closed. "He shut up the doors of the House of the Lord" (v. 24). It is surely a sign that a revival is needed when men seek to block the way of others from worshiping God. Ahaz denied Jehovah, then sought to shut others out from the acknowledging of Him as God. There are doors in the temple of every man's heart that may be closed to his own loss and destruction. The door of communion with God may be shut by our love of, and delight in, the things which He hates. Our own unfitness is as a self-closed door. The door of Divine love and light may be closed by our own pride and prejudice. The door of faith and prayer is shut up by the unbelief of our own hearts.
3. The Light of Testimony is Quenched. "They put out the lamps" (chapter 29:7). The lamps of God, aflame with the holy oil, became unbearable to those who loved the darkness of falsehood rather than the light of truth. The Christian's testimony for God is as a flame kindled and sustained by the oil of the Holy Spirit. When this is "put out," it is an insult to God and a grieving of that Spirit, whose character and mission is to make us as a flame of fire. It was a sad experience the foolish virgins had when their lamps went out. It is even the work of the world, the flesh, and the devil to put out the lamp of truth, and to quench the light of testimony, that the darkness of death and desertion may settle down in the House (Church) of God.
4. The Offering of Incense is Given Up. "They have not burned incense" (v. 7). When the lamp of testimony has been put out, the offering up of the incense of prayer and adoration will speedily cease. These two are vitally connected—they live or die together. Testimony for God will be but as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals where the sweet incense of believing prayer is awanting.
5. There is a General Departing from the Worship of God. "Out fathers have forsaken Him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs" (v. 6). There is great need for a revival when the multitude turn their backs upon the House of God. Of course we do not wonder at many turning away their faces from God's House when the doors are shut up and the lamps out. Polished stones, carved wood, and all sorts of material finery have no attractions for a soul hungering for the Bread of Life. But there are many who turn their backs upon God's provision because they prefer the broken cisterns of their own hewing. To turn the back on God is to turn the face to destruction.
II. Evidences that a Revival had Come. There was—
1. A Personal Consecration. "Hezekiah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" (chapter 29:2). He began by getting himself put right in the eyes of the Lord. It is one thing to pray for a revival, it is quite another to yield ourselves definitely to God, that His will and work may be done in us and by us. A coming shower of blessing is sure to be heralded by drops falling on some individual soul. Seek to be that soul by personal consecration.
2. The Opening of Closed Doors. "He opened the doors of the House of the Lord" (v. 3). Every avenue of the soul that has been closed through indifference and unbelief will be immediately thrown open, and the light of God's truth will have free access to the heart, which should be the House of the Lord. "Clear the darkened windows, and let the blessed sunshine in." All revival comes from the presence of the Lord, who waits outside the closed door, saying, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear, and open, I will come in."
3. A Casting Out of the Unclean. "Sanctify yourselves, and sanctify the house... and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place" (v. 5). "And the priests went into the inner part, and brought out all the impurity" (v. 16). It is an unmistakable evidence that the power of God's Spirit is moving mightily when His servants take to the work of cleansing the inner part. Out of the heart are the issues of life. If God the Spirit is to dwell in us, the inner sanctuary of the life must be purged of all that is unfitting in His presence. The common Levites had no power to deal with those abominations that were in the inner parts of the temple, the priests had to go in and bring them out to the court, before the Levites could remove them (v. 16). There are evils and hindrances to the work and worship of God that can be seen and dealt with only by those who have had the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Others, like the Levites, may see the sinfulness of certain things, when they have been pointed out, and put them away. "Cleanse You me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12).
4. Realization of their True Position before God. "The Lord has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister unto Him, and that you should be His ministers, and burn incense" (v. 11, R.V.). A revolution is certain when God's people realize their true relationship to Him as chosen ones.
(1) They are chosen by the Lord—called by His grace.
(2) They are chosen to stand before Him—to wait before Him, and to receive His Word.
(3) Chosen to minister unto Him—to do all in His Name and for His glory. "You are not your own."
(4) Chosen to be His ministers—to carry His Word and will to others.
(5) Chosen to burn incense—to offer unto God the sweet incense of intercessory prayer. You know your calling, brethren; are you walking worthy of it?
THE ROYAL MESSAGE. 2 Chronicles 30:1-12.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine. Let us see if we cannot find some profitable doctrine from the historical facts here chronicled for our spiritual advantage. Observe the—
I. Great Provision. "The priests made an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin-offering should be made for all Israel" (chapter 29:24). This was the great day of atonement, when reconciliation was made for the people by the blood of sacrifice. The sin-offering speaks of guilt put away, while the burnt-offering declares acceptance with God. There was no message of hope and blessing to the people until the question of sin had been settled. The Gospel of Salvation could only be preached by the apostles after Christ had suffered for us, as the sin-offering; and had risen again, as the burnt-offering. It is through Him we have received the reconciliation (Romans 5:11, R.V.).
II. Urgent Message. These letters, sent from the king, and carried by the posts throughout all Israel, contained—
1. A Call to Repentance. "You children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham" (v. 6). No turning is effectual that is not unto God. The Thessalonians "turned to God from idols." A man may rend his garments and turn to idols, but those whose hearts have been rent will turn to God (Joel 2:13). Repentance is needed, for all have gone astray. God has commanded all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel.
2. A Call to Surrender. "Yield yourselves unto the Lord" (v. 8). This royal letter demanded, not only repentance toward God, but a personal consecration of the life to Him. The yielding of ourselves unto God is the evidence that we have in heart turned to Him. "Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ" (1 Corinthians 6:15). We turn to God for life, then we are to yield ourselves unto Him, as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:13).
3. A Call to Service. "And serve the Lord your God" (v. 8). Acceptable service is the outcome of a consecrated life. Turn, yield, serve—is the royal order. If you are redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ, therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God's. If you can say, "Whose I am," you ought also to add, "Whom I serve" (Acts 27:23).
4. A Word of Encouragement. "For if you turn unto the Lord, your children shall find compassion... for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face from you" (v. 9). This letter, like the Gospel of Christ, contained the only way into a life of true happiness and usefulness.
III. General Invitation. The king's message was to be "proclaimed throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba even to Dan" (v. 5). From the southern to the northern extremities of the land. Like the Gospel, it was to be preached to every creature (Mark 16:15). All were invited to "keep the Passover unto the Lord." It was for the glory of God that they should keep in memory that terrible night in Egypt, when they were saved through the blood of the lamb. How much more is it to His glory that we should remember the "Blood of His Cross?" To share in this great deliverance, the Gospel of God invites us.
IV. Twofold Result.
1. Some Mocked. "They laughed them to scorn, and mocked them" (v. 10). The poor postmen had to bear their sneers, but it was the God of Israel, who inspired the message, that was mocked and laughed at. The posts, who passed from city to city as itinerant preachers, were not responsible for the message they carried; they were doing the king's business, and with him they had to do. The messengers of the Cross and the King of Glory are so closely linked together that to despise the one is to despise the other. "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto Me" (Matthew 25:40). Saul was persecuting the saints when the Lord said to him, "Why persecute you Me?" (Acts 9:4).
2. Some Believed. "Nevertheless divers... humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem" (v. 11). No doubt this call was a humbling one. It implied a confession of their sins and a turning away from their own willful, wicked works. It was much easier for some to laugh at the messenger than to do this. Any fool may sneer, but it takes a wise man to repent. Although the Gospel is to be preached to every creature, that does not prove that every creature who hears the message will be saved (Acts 16:34). Only those who repent and believe—who "humble themselves and come" —can partake of the benefits of this Great Passover. Christ, our Passover, sacrificed for us. Whoever will may come.
MANASSEH'S CONVERSION. 2 Chronicles 33:10-13.
"He that finds his Heaven, must lose his sins."—Cowper.
Some lives are virtually blighted and ruined before they are born, because of hereditary tendencies. Manasseh had everything in his favor, being the son of a godly father, yet, in point of principle, he was a moral wreck. How much his mother or his counselors were to blame for this it is difficult to say, but he proved himself to be an enemy to his father and to his God. We note his—
I. Rebellion. To all who feared the Lord, his reign was the "reign of terror." There was an utter disregard to his father's godly example. "He built again the high places which his father had broken down" (v. 3). But not only so, he was possessed with such an evil spirit that he would have his own will and way, to the dishonor and defiance of God, by setting up his own idol in the House of God (v. 7). The essence of rebellion against the Lord is: Not Your will, but mine be done. The Dagon of self is often set up in the temple of God. It is said that Sir John Sloane had the heartless sayings of his unnatural son pasted together, framed and glazed, and hung up on the wall, with these words printed underneath: "Death-blows given to his mother, by George Sloane." Is not every sin a death-blow given by the sinner to the grace and mercy of God?
II. Warning. "The Lord spoke unto Manasseh, and to his people, but they would not hearken" (v. 10). In some way or other God made the young king to know that he was living a life at enmity with Him. If he had no special message sent by the prophet Isaiah, whom he probably caused to be sawn asunder, he had the commandments and ordinances given by the hand of Moses (v. 8). In mercy, God warns before He strikes in judgment. The warning may come through some providential earthquake, or by the still small voice of conscience, or, perhaps, through the lips of some heaven-sent messenger. Not to "hearken" is to continue an unholy warfare against the Almighty.
III. Defeat. "They took Manasseh among the thorns (hooks), and bound him with fetters" (v. 11). Because he denied the Lord, the Lord brought the host of Assyria against him. National backsliding brought national defeat. This is an established principle in the government of God, as the book of Judges, and all past history, clearly teach. As it is nationally, so is it individually. The soul that sins, it shall die. Defeat and bondage like ravenous wolves, will, sooner or later, overtake the God-defying sinner. The Lord has many an unexpected way of "hooking" His enemies. He hooked Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus, with the light of truth. Manasseh was hooked with the irons of affliction and reproach (Psalm 107:10, 11). What is man that he should boast himself against God? At any moment He may thrust in His hook of authority, and hurl back the rebel into everlasting doom.
IV. Surrender. "When he was in affliction he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before God" (v. 12). While in his affliction and solitary confinement, his guilty past, in all its ghastliness, stares him in the face. He sees that the forces against him are overwhelming, and yields himself a prisoner unto God. Never did an enemy sue for peace more earnestly than did the subdued Manasseh. His repentance was real—he humbled himself and sought the Lord. Before, he sought to slay the truth of God by resisting it; but the truth has conquered. A drunken sailor was once brought to his knees by a Christian worker tenderly saying to him, "Jack, you had a mother." Sometimes memory, as well as patience, has its perfect work. There can be no real repentance that does not lead to God. A man might tremble, as Felix did, or be as deeply convicted as Agrippa, and yet never repent. Feeling sorry for sin, and resolving to do better in the future, is not the repentance that brings life. If our bitterness of soul does not constrain us to seek the forgiveness of God, and to yield ourselves to Him, it is a repentance that needs to be repented of. The evidence of the prodigal's repentance was that "he came to his father" (Luke 15).
V. Victory. "The Lord heard his supplications, and brought him again to Jerusalem, into his kingdom" (v. 13). He comes back a new man to live a new life. Old things have passed away; all things have become new. His was a great deliverance, as all God's deliverances are. He was emancipated from a wicked self and a terrible past by being made a new creation through the grace of God. He only now begins to live; his past life has brought forth nothing but failure and shame. Manasseh is the Saul of the Old Testament. God can save the worst of sinners, but only by the way of repentance and faith. Although this is an example of the grace of God, there is no encouragement to continue in sin, that grace may abound. If one dying thief was saved, that is no proof that other dying thieves will. Although one Blondin crossed the Niagara on a rope, that is no guarantee that anybody could do it. God has commanded all men to repent and believe the Gospel. "Then Manasseh knew that the Lord, He was God" (2 Chronicles 33:13). He knew Him now because he had experienced His saving and restoring power.