Having traced the sad history of Israel down to the time of their captivity,a judgment from heaven because of their persistent rejection of the messages of the prophets,we turn to the record of the southern kingdom, whose regal line descended unbroken from the great rulers, David and Solomon. Here, too, we shall find that the tender heart of God yearned over His people, whose rulers sat in the palace at Jerusalem, the city which He had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put His name there. 2 Chron. 12: 13.
Boldly and fearlessly did divinely appointed prophets bear messages of stern reproof and warn of impending judgments in times of apostasy. Faithfully and tenderly did they encourage and support the efforts of some of Judah's noble kings who sought to turn the people back to the worship of Jehovah. These royal reformers, by retarding the strong current of apostasy, prolonged the life and independence of the kingdom of Judah, which outlasted the northern kingdom by one hundred thirty-five years.
To Rehoboam of Judah, as to Jeroboam of Israel, prophetic messages were borne. In marked contrast, however, to the anger manifested by Jeroboam against the prophet who bore his testimony at Bethel was the obedient submission of Rehoboam early in his reign.
With a natural heritage of martial courage and skill, and assured of an unbroken dynasty by the divine promises to his grandfather David, it is not strange that Rehoboam confidently expected that he could, by force of arms, reduce the rebellious ten tribes to submission. His first act, therefore, was to muster an army of one hundred eighty thousand men of war. He was about to lead them forth against the ten tribes, when there came to him Shemaiah the man of God, who addressed him and the assembled army, 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 done of Me. 2 Chron. 11:4.
So fully did the king and his followers accept this as counsel from God that, without demur or hesitation, they hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of the Lord. 1 Kings 12:24.
Rehoboam did not, however, always maintain this attitude of loyalty to God. He became inflated by success. Despite the wars initiated against him by Jeroboam, he was able to establish and strengthen himself. But he then fell beneath the subtle temptation to pride and self-exaltation, and he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him. 2 Chron. 12: 1.
At length, a great Egyptian army, under Shishak, appeared before the walls of Jerusalem. Flushed with his success in having captured a number of fortified cities in Judah, he confidently expected to take the capital also.
In this hour of peril and anxiety, Shemaiah again appeared to Rehoboam and his princes, to bring them the word of the Lord. He told them plainly that these calamities had come upon them because the Lord, whom they had forsaken, had withdrawn His protection. This message led them to humble their hearts before God, and they freely acknowledged His justice in bringing trouble upon them. Then another message came, assuring them that God was merciful, that He had changed His purpose to pour out His wrath upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. He would not destroy them, but would grant them deliverance for a little while. 2 Chron. 12: 7, margin.
The invading army entered Jerusalem; but, having taken the treasures from the temple and from the king's house, Shishak departed without destroying the city, dethroning Rehoboam, or taking captives.
This experience was a solemn object lesson, early in the history of Judah, of the relation of God to His people. It served as a reminder that national success and prosperity come through the favor of Jehovah. In announcing the partial deliverance from the king of Egypt, the prophet stated God's purpose in the experience,that they may know My service, and the service
of the kingdoms of the countries. 2 Chron. 12:8. If they were to refuse obedience and loyalty to God, there was no alternative save subjection to the nations about them, which were growing in power.
This lesson was not forgotten by Rehoboam. During the rest of his reign, the record states, In Judah things went well, and he strengthened himself in Jerusalem. Verses 12, 13.
God's favor and prospering hand rested upon Judah during the reign of Abijah, the son of Rehoboam, and through the greater part of the succeeding reign of Asa, who for a time did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord. 2 Chron. 14:2. Divine help was sent to him in answer to his earnest prayer when faced with an invasion by a mighty army from Ethiopia. He was granted a signal victory over his enemies; and on his return from the campaign, the Lord sent Him a message intended to keep him from becoming self-exalted.
The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Obed: and he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The Lord is with you, while ye be with Him; and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you. 2 Chron. 15:1, 2.
So profoundly was Asa impressed by this message that he assembled the people of Judah, and led them in a great service of consecration to God. Many of the idols were destroyed. He even deposed his own mother from acting as queen, because she persisted in idolatry.
A long period of peace followed, until there was a hostile move on the part of Baasha, the king of Israel, who began to erect a strong fortress on the border, with the intention of stopping all who would enter or leave the kingdom. Now, instead of looking to the Lord, who had so mightily delivered him from the Ethiopians, Asa sent costly presents of gold and silver, taken from his own house and from the temple, to Ben-hadad, king of Syria, with the request that he lead the Syrian armies in an invasion of the northern kingdom.
The plan was successful. The Syrians captured a number of cities. Baasha ceased work on the fortification, and Asa, with a band of workmen, removed the material that had been gathered for its erection. But his elation over this diplomacy was shortlived. Hanani, another prophet, here enters the picture, bringing to him a rebuke from the Lord for relying on a heathen king for deliverance, while neglecting to look to the Lord for His guidance and help. The Lord's desire to deliver all who trust in Him was beautifully stated in these words:
The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him. 2 Chron. 16:9.
Because of his folly, he was sentenced, not only to be deprived of the honor of conquering the Syrians, but to be troubled with constant war for the rest of his reign. Dearly did he pay for putting dependence in a heathen king instead of in Jehovah.
Angered at this message, King Asa manifested a shocking disregard for the authority of Jehovah, and of His messenger. He ordered the prophet seized and cast into prison. Later, his defection was further indicated when, being afflicted with sickness, he consulted magicians instead of inquiring of the Lord through one of His prophets.
Jehoshaphat, the next king of Judah, was one of her best rulers. He carried forward the work of reform that had lapsed during the latter part of Asa's reign. But he entered into an unfortunate alliance with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, in a campaign against Syria. The account of this, with the message from the prophet Micaiah, has already been related in Chapter IX, in noting the experiences of Ahab.
On his return to Jerusalem from this war,where Ahab had been killed and he himself had been saved only by divine interposition,he was met by the prophet Jehu, the son of Hanani the seer, who brought him words of reproof because of his alliance with Ahab, yet commended him for his piety. He said:
Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord. Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God. 2 Chron. 19:2, 3.
The king accepted this reproof, and continued to lead his people in the way of the Lord.
One of the most remarkable instances of divine interposition and deliverance from overwhelming danger that has ever been recorded occurred a little later in the reign of Jehoshaphat. A great army of three nationsthe Moabites, the Ammonites, and the inhabitants of Mount Seirwas invading the land of Judah. In great distress and anxiety, Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast throughout the land. Before a large congregation assembled in the courts of the temple, he cried mightily to God for deliverance. An assuring response came at once from heaven, through the Lord's established method of communication with His people:
Then upon Jahaziel came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation; and he 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 by reason of this great multitude; 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. 2 Chron. 20:14-17.
This message was accepted by the king and all the people, as from the Lord. As they proceeded to carry out the prophet's instruction, the king declared to them this fundamental truth: 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. Verse 20.
As they demonstrated their belief that God had spoken through the prophet upon whom the Spirit of the Lord had come, the Lord wrought a marvelous victory for them on the battlefield. Their enemies, being thrown into confusion, destroyed themselves.
When the army of Israel came within sight of the battlefield, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped. Verse 24.
This experience made a profound impression upon the triumphant army of Jehoshaphat, and upon all Israel who witnessed their return. So we read:
Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in the forefront of them, to go again to Jerusalem with joy; for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies . And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries, when they had heard that the Lord fought against the enemies of Israel. So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet: for his God gave him rest round about. Verses 27-30.
Still later King Jehoshaphat brought upon himself another reproof from a prophet of the Lord. He allied himself to Ahaziah, a king of Israel, who did very wickedly, and together they attempted to revive the great maritime trade of the time of Solomon. They built a large fleet of merchant ships at the northern end of the Red Sea.
Then Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works. And the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish. 2 Chron. 20:37.
Another instance of prophetic communication of great import to the nation occurred in the later years of the kingdom. The national apostasy had progressed so far that retribution seemed imminent. Manasseh, the king, had put to death many of the people of God, and had attempted to establish idolatry firmly in the land. He made his own son to pass through the fire. He seduced the people to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel. 2 Kings 21:9.
The Lord spake by His servants the prophets, saying, Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done
wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of Mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies. 2 Kings 21:10-14.
The direct relation of the captivity to the rejection of the Lord's messages, as delivered by His prophets, is clearly indicated in the following statement:
The Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken. Wherefore [for this reason] the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. 2 Chron. 33:10, 11.
As has happened to many others, affliction led him to seek the Lord. In Babylon as a captive he humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto Him. Verses 12, 13.
The Lord heard his prayer, and restored him to his land and his kingdom. He soughtin vain, howeverto stem the current of evil that he had started in the earlier part of his reign.
After Manasseh died, his son Amon ruled wickedly for two years, and was followed by the youthful Josiah. He had been brought up by a godly mother, who feared the Lord. In the eighteenth year of his reign he appointed workmen to repair and clean out the temple, which had fallen into decay through disuse. Here was found by Hilkiah, the priest, a dusty, aged parchment, which proved to be the scroll of the book of the law as given to Moses, and which had long been unused.
It was a momentous discovery. Tidings of the find were carried to the king; and he asked that the book be read to him. As he heard the blessings promised to Israel if they would be obedient to the law of God, and the curses that would result if they should disobey, he became greatly distressed and anxious. Calling the priest and others, he said to them:
Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book. 2 Chron. 34:21.
So well was the prophetic gift understood by the people that when Josiah said, Inquire of the Lord, those appointed by him went at once to a prophetess, by the name of Huldah, who was living, probably as an instructor, in the college. Through her God gave this answer:
She answered them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah.
To the king this message was added:
Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest His words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before Me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before Me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place. Verses 23-28.
We have here related typical instances, plainly indicating the important relationship existing between the prophet and the king. Though Israel had demanded a successive, visible, regal leadership, that they might be like the nations around them, yet God did not permit the new form of government to supplant the theocracy entirely. Though no longer the nominal ruler, yet the attitude of the prophet, as a mouthpiece for Jehovah, was that of counselor and director to the king. Let us note this most important relationship:
He might restrain the king from carrying out an unwise plan that had been decided upon, as when the prophet bade King Rehoboam desist from attacking the ten tribes.
He might set before the king the principles by which divine favor would be retained, as was clearly outlined in the message from Azariah to Asa.
He might give reproof for mistakes that the king had made, and specify the resulting punishment therefor.
He might give detailed instruction to the king in a time of crisis, as when Jahaziel directed Jehoshaphat to send a band of singers before the army, in the face of seemingly invincible foes.
When in perplexity, the king, by inquiring of the prophet, might receive an answer that would reveal God's will to him.
Whereas in Israel there was, with no exception, a line of kings whose apostasy and wickedness made them ever hostile to the prophetic messengers, in Judah there were a number of kings who were responsive to the messages that God sent through His prophets, and who, more or less successfully, led the people back to the worship of Jehovah.
Yet there were times when the exercising of the prophetic gift was subject to as real a peril in Judah as in Israel. Some of the prophets were imprisoned. It was by a king of Judah that Zechariah, a son of the high priest, who protested against the sins of the people, was at the commandment of the king, stoned to death, even in the sacred precincts of the temple court. 2 Chron. 24:21. Jeremiah bore his testimony in the valley of the shadow. Isaiah was, it is generally believed, sawn asunder in a hollow log, among those who perished in the great persecution under Manasseh.