Lessons from a Great Man’s Failures (I)

Introduction:                                                                                                                                The Bible tells us that Biblical history is very important for us to learn from. Speaking about the judgments upon the children of Israel under Moses, Paul tells us that “these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (I Cor.10:11-12).

The Bible shows us that we are all sinners, and that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). Because we have such short memories and so readily sin, we are commanded to learn from history through examining the lives of Biblical people, learning from their example. It was Hilaire Belloc who said that

time after time mankind is driven against the rocks of the horrid reality of a fallen creation. And time after time mankind must learn the hard lessons of history; the lessons that for some dangerous and awful reason we can’t seem to keep in our collative memory.

Four chapters of the Bible detail the 25 year reign of Jehoshaphat in Judah (II Chron.17-20). He came to the throne of Judah around 900 B.C., and the scripture is initially quite positive about him. It tells us that

the Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of David’s earlier days and did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father, followed His commandments, and did not act as Israel did. So the Lord established the kingdom in his control, and all Judah brought tribute to Jehoshaphat, and he had great riches and honour (II Chron.17:3-5).

So Jehoshaphat starts off well, and the Bible acknowledges this. But as Derek Prince used to say, “The greatest test of all, is success.” At the start of chapter 18, the scripture tells us that “Jehoshaphat had great riches and honour, and he allied himself by marriage with Ahab.”

What had happened here?

Three generations earlier, God had judged Solomon’s arrogant son Rehoboam and divided his kingdom, so that out of the twelve tribes of Israel, he only retained the oversight of Judah (see II Chron. 10). As a result, Judah was generally governed by godly kings, but Israel was not.

By the time of Jehoshaphat’s reign in Judah, Ahab reigned in Israel, but Ahab was both an idol worshipper and a murderer (I Kings 21). God had commanded Israel even before they entered the promised land that in relation to the inhabitants of that land,

…you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them, and show no favour to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods… (Deut.7:2-4).

Why this emphasis on covenant? Because that is how God deals with people. It’s not “easy come, easy go” with Him. He chooses the individuals, and signs them up. Forget all this free-will nonsense that the Church has taught for centuries, because man’s will is fallen, like every other aspect of his being. God does it all.

Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you…” (Jn.15:16). From the first, He has always dealt with people on the basis of His covenant. It was the covenant that Adam and Eve transgressed in the garden, bringing them into judgment. It was the covenant that Israel repeatedly transgressed under Moses, also bringing the nation into judgment.

One aspect of God’s character we don’t speak about much today, is His jealousy. His jealousy is because of His covenant. Heard any sermons on God’s jealousy in your time? I haven’t, but God’s jealousy is mentioned about 30 times in the Bible. Perhaps our lack of understanding of His jealousy today, says something about the state of the Church today.

God doesn’t take kindly to it when His people form alliances with ungodly people. He views it as a form of treason, because it is spiritual adultery-unfaithfulness to Him. The First Commandment was “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex.20:3), and God will bring His people into judgment for this kind of behaviour. If Christians think they can be believers in Christ and yet sleep around (either literally or spiritually), they should expect God’s judgment. This was where Jehoshaphat fell down.

From the viewpoint of a foreign king seeking to undermine Israel, an alliance through his daughter’s marriage to an Israelite king was ideal. This was a low-cost strategy of subversion. The Israelite king’s polytheistic example could undermine Israel in all four covenants: personal, ecclesiastical, civil and familial.[1]

The New Testament reiterates the Old Testament prohibition. We are commanded “do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” (II Cor.6:14-15)

(To be continued)

[1] Gary North, “Inheritance and Dominion,” 1999, ch.40.