Jehoshaphat, one Judah’s finest kings was followed by a son and grandson who in nine years undid all of the good that he had accomplished in twenty-five years. Yet, and this is the sad irony, these men were more influenced by Jehoshaphat’s failures than they were motivated by his strengths. While this study will focus upon the reigns of two men whose tenures spanned nine years, we should be mindful that the death of Jehoshaphat led Judah into fifteen years of instability, genocide and totally rebellion against God, because they were followed by the disaster who was Queen Athaliah.
The title of this study is “The Tragedy of Apostasy”. The word “apostasy” means to renounce a belief. In terms of faith the word refers to a person who, or a body of people which, renounces what they once believed to be true. The word stems from Greek word apostasy which is translated as “a falling away” (2nd Thessalonians 2:3). Those who have never professed to believe cannot become apostate. This is a sin committed not by genuine Christians but by people who once claimed in an outward way that they knew God and belonged to Him. Where there is apostasy from the truth of God there will be serious repercussions.
Jehoram and Ahaziah were both divinely anointed Kings presiding in the line of David over the Kingdom of the Jehovah. They were men who professed to belong to the covenant nation, yet by their acts they showed themselves to apostate, and their sin brought a devastating judgment.
As a teenage boy I heard Dr Myron Guiler preach on the Kings of Judah upon the theme – “One Preacher Away from Apostasy”. The point he made so well was that the church can move in a a couple of generations from a strong uncompromising ministry to one that is weak opening the door for a man who is an out and out apostate. In the case of Jehoshaphat, his tendency to make alliances with the house of Ahab created the circumstances whereby his household could be totally absorbed by the religious ideas that this household were germinating. Jehoshaphat only ever wanted political and economic alliances with the kings of the north. Hs family went one step further and turned this into spiritual union. The pragmatism of Jehoshaphat made apostasy logical and straightforward for his son and grandson.
“Jehoshaphat’s alliance sowed the seeds of disaster…sins can never be ring fenced and the consequences contained. Others may still be suffering the painful consequences many years later…Sometimes the consequences are very perplexing for future generations. Children may pick up the sinful habits that their parents have failed to root out of their own lives, and nurture them so that in the younger generation they become deeply rooted weeds of ungodly character. In church life the unacknowledged pastoral cowardice of ministers and elders can blight the witness of a new generation of God’s servants.”2nd Chronicles, A House of Prayer, Andrew Stewart
As with the fault-lines that opened up in the life of Jehoshaphat ( https://cloghervalleyfpc.wordpress.com/2021/07/21/2nd-chronicles-17-20-jehoshaphat-compromise-reformation/ ) this study likewise, should cause us to deeply ponder our own hearts, our example or lack of it and ought to provoke us to pray that God would be merciful.
Before looking at the historical and practical lessons to be drawn from this sad period of history, I wish to address an apparent discrepancy in 22:2. It is recorded that Ahaziah was forty-two years of age when he became King. If his father Jehoram was forty when he died ((21:20), there is an obvious problem. 2nd Kings 8:26 informs us that Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became King which seems more realistic.
It is for this reason that many scholars have opted for the solution that a scribe wrote down the wrong number, four instead of two. Indeed the great Church of Ireland Archbishop, James Ussher, is said to have purchased a copy of the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament), which used the figure twenty-two in the Chronicles record. This it is said, proves that there were copies without this discrepancy.
It is impossible, however, to believe that the translators of the Authorised Version were unaware of this problem. In their desire to be faithful to the Hebrew text they refused to deviate even in the face apparent difficulties. In so doing they accorded the Scripture huge respect, a a book that is above the thinking of men. They would not tamper with it and neither should we. It must also be pointed out that Jews took the most extraordinary care in their attention to the Scriptures of Truth. The fact that this apparent discrepancy is found in the ancient Hebrew Text, shows that there must be another solution to this difficulty other than the mere simplistic solution that someone wrote down a wrong number.
“The ordinary solution of the difficulty is therefore the supposed error of some transcriber. This is a usual, but a most violent, gratuitous, and dangerous proceeding.”Browns Self Interpreting Bible, notes by Dr H. Cooke
Is there then a plausible, logical examination for this apparent discrepancy? There have been a number of suggestions of which the following are the most credible:
- Ahaziah’s mother Athaliah was forty-two when he became King. As she was a most dominant individual who influenced both him and his father and who seized the throne after his death, this is a reasonable explanation. Scholars have stated that the original does not necessity state the age of the King, it could be the age of another.
- The House of Omri, being the royal household which Athaliah stemmed from and which was now seeking to dominate Judah, was forty-two years old at this time, according to the calculations of Matthew Poole.
- Some have argued that Ahaziah’s father Jehoram was not forty at the time of his death but sixty. while he reigned eight years in his own right, it is not impossible that he co-reigned with his Father Jehoshaphat for a time, as he was being prepared for the crown. Even in more modern times the heir to the throne has a considerable influence within the royal household. Therefore Jehoram when he was thirty two had been given considerable responsibility by his Father, which may in part explain some of Jehoshaphat’s compromising. In 2nd Kings 8:16 there is a curious phrase that appears to support this hypothesis; “And in the fifth year of Joram, the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign.” Scholars argue that co-regency was common in the history of history, the example set by David’s appointment of Solomon. For such a theory to work however, Ahaziah, must also have have been a co-regent with both Jehoram and Jehoshaphat, in order to explain his ascession at twenty-two years of age as recorded in the Book of Kings.
In truth none of these reasons are completely satisfying and leave us with many more questions. The point, however, that forty-two may not necessarily be the age of Ahaziah, certainly points us in another direction.
Having examined this difficult text let us move into the major lessons from this very sad and tragic historic narrative.
JEHORAM & AHAZIAH: THE TRAGEDY OF APOSTASY
1: THE CAUSE OF THE APOSTASY
The Scriptures are clear as to the cause of this dreadful departure from God.
“And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, like as did the house of Ahab: for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife: and he wrought that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD.” (2nd Chronicles 21:6)
HIs wife, Athaliah, like her mother Jezebel had a profoundly wicked influence upon the people of God. Baal worship had entered the northern kingdom as a result of the Ahab and Jezebel partnership. Now their daughter was causing the this same wickedness to take root in the southern kingdom of Judah.
This pernicious influence continued on into the reign of Ahaziah.
“He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab: for his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly. Wherefore he did evil in the sight of the LORD like the house of Ahab: for they were his counsellors after the death of his father to his destruction.” (2nd Chronicles 22:3-4)
On very personal level we learn from this, the danger of an unequal yoke in marriage. The marriage between a professing Christian and one who is unconverted will always have disastrous consequences. There is a precious sanctity in marriage, the bond being violated when a Christian chooses to partner with one who does not know the Lord:
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)
This compromise also teaches us all to carefully guard our friendships and influences in every walk of life:
“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1st Corinthians 15:33)
The nation of Judah in these times are the Old Testament parallel of the New Testament Church. Israel to the north with its false religion represents the false church. The alliance between the two and the ensuing tragedy is a solemn warning to us that we guard the purity, the testimony and the separation of the Church. We must be watchful lest Satan gain an advantage over us in any way. This includes guarding our personal testimonies against backsliding as well as guarding the church body against compromise with the world and with false doctrine. We must remain rooted to the solid ground ground of truth because light cannot co-exist with darkness:
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” (2nd Cor 6:14-18)
This is the very reason why the Free Presbyterian Church and other separate bodies exist, because our founding fathers could not in all conscience be part of a church body which compromised the truth of the Gospel and so they bravely withdrew, in order to preserve the purity of Christ’s body.
2: THE CARNAGE BY THE APOSTASY
In the fifteen years between the death of Jehoshaphat and the coronation of King Josiah there were three family massacres within the royal household of David.
The first occurred after Jehoram became king. Unable to bear the thought of possible challenges he had all of his brothers executed (2nd Chronicles 21:4). Judgement fell upon his own family for this crime because a band of Arabians killed all of his own sons except one (2nd Chronicles 22:1). After the death of Ahaziah, Athaliah his mother ordered the killing of all the young men and boys who were eligible contenders for the throne in Jerusalem (2nd Chronicles 22:10).
This devaluing of life was typical of murderous Ahab and wicked Jezebel. This evil pair were after all, responsible for the death of godly and upright Naboth in Jezebel for a vineyard, a crime which brought God’s judgment down upon their heads. When a society abandons God, human life, made in God’s image, is devalued. We have witnessed this recently with two actions by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis. In one week he ordered the Northern Ireland Executive to commission abortion services and he announced a plan that would lead to a de facto amnesty for all terrorists during the course of the Troubles. This is typical of the politics of corrupt British society – all principle is abandoned as men and women do what seems to be right in their own eyes. Such actions make our nation increasingly ripe for judgment.
The carnage of this apostasy was one of the most sinister and satanic inspired attacks upon the people of God in Hebrew history. On three occasions every member of the royal seed, with the exception of one, were slaughtered. Satan knowing that the Saviour must come from David’s lineage was endeavouring with all of his cunning and callousness to exterminate the family of David, thereby preventing the arrival of the Redeemer. This strategy lay at the heart of every attack upon ancient Israel and continues to this day through the many assaults upon the Church of Christ. Our ancient foe continues in his evil quest to frustrate the plans of God.
This debate between truth and error and between God and Satan aids us in our understanding of world history. There are times, as in this dark period of Jewish history, and indeed in our present circumstances when it seems that Satan is on the rise. But let us never be discouraged – all is not what it seems. God permits Satan to have his way only for a little time.
3: THE CONDEMNATION UPON THE APOSTASY
Neither of these wicked kings knew success.
Jehoram suffered a revolt by the Edomites who continued to problematic for God’s people in future days.
The most telling sign of judgment, however, came in the form of a letter written by the hand of Elijah (1st Chronicles 21:12-15). This is fascinating because it is the only recorded interaction between Elijah and the southern Kingdom of Judah. Elijah’s activities were almost totally focused upon the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah brought forth the evidence of Jerhoram’s wrong doing, in following the course of Ahab’s household, before pronouncing a solemn sentence. His wives and his children would suffer and he himself would suffer greatly; “And thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day”.
Jerusalem was subsequently overrun by the Philistines and the Arabians. It is expressly stated that these ancient enemies were stirred up by the LORD. He suffered as Elijah said he would before passing from this life. It is said that he died without being desired. There were no tears shed when he died. His life was not remembered nor was it celebrated. He was not even buried among the kings.
The passing of Jehoram reminds me of the death of Mary 1st of England, known as Bloody Mary, owing to the hundreds of executions of faithful Christians during her reign. When she breathed her last on 17th November 1558 there were few to mourn her passing:
“The news of Mary’s decease speedily circulated through London; in the afternoon every steeple sent forth its peal of joy: in the evening bonfires were lighted, and the citizens, setting tables in the street, and bringing forth bread and wine ‘did eat, drink and rejoice’. Everywhere, as the intelligence travelled down to the towns and counties of England, the bells were set a-ringing, and men, as they met on the highways, grasped each other by the hand, and exchanged mutual congratulations. The nation woke up, as from a horrible nightmare…it saw a future in which the Bible would be permitted to be read, in which the Gospel would again be preached in the mother tongue of old England, and quiet and prosperity would again bless the afflicted land”History of Protestantism, J.A. Wylie
Governments who have no regard for God and His law make for poor Governments, whose rule will not be regarded with fondness. While Jehoram was not mourned the nightmare for the godly remnant in Judah in continue.
HIs son Ahaziah, only reigned for one year. After being in battle when fighting with Jehoram, King of Israel, against the Philistines he recuperated in Jezebel, at the royal palace. But there is trouble afoot. God has raised up a new King by the name of a military leader called Jehu. Ahab’s household would be brought down forever and a new family would seize the throne. Ahaziah finds himself in the crossfire as Jehu launches his coup. Judgement day has come for Ahab’s family as the House of Omri is overthrown.
There is a certain symmetry in the fact that these years of alliances with the family of Ahab ends with a King of Judah being killed at Ahab’s royal palace. The slaughter of Ahab’s sons and the emergence of Jehu was a direct fulfilment of Elijah’s words also.
Where there is apostasy there will always be judgment.
The Book of Hebrews contains may solemn warning regarding the dangers of apostasy in the life of the professing church, warnings we do well to take to heart.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29)
4: THE COMPASSION DURING THIS APOSTASY
Despite the terrible darkness of these troublesome times, there were tokens for good. God saw fit to save at least one man from the royal line during three massacres and he would not permit the enemy to completely overrun Judah. The reason for this compassion is set forth by the inspired historian:
“Howbeit the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and as he promised to give a light to him and to his sons for ever.” (2nd Chronicles 21:7)
God’s word to David would never be broken. There would continue to be a man to say upon his throne because God had promised. The light would never be extinguished. At times the lamp would burn low but it would not be permitted to go out, for David’s sake. These were days of darkness and judgement yet there was mercy and signs that better days lay ahead.
This has held true for the Christian Church throughout the centuries. In days of darkness the flame, while burning low was never extinguished. Therefore let us not despair. Christ will build His Church, God vindicate His honour and the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Ultimately God will always look upon us with His favour for the sake of His Son to whom has promised:
“Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Psalm 2:8
Let us today be encouraged for Christ’s sake and claim His blessing by faith.