Then Amaziah sent messengers to the king of Israel, Jehoash son of Jehoahaz, the son of Jehu. "Come, let us meet face to face," he said.
2 Chronicles 25:20).
I. THE BOASTFUL CHALLENGE.
1. Its motives. It is not difficult to conceive the kind of influences which led Amaziah to give this challenge to Joash.
(1) Naturally vain-glorious, he was greatly elated by his successes over Edom, and was ambitious to pose as a great military conqueror. How many wars have had their origin in no higher source! To gratify the vanity and ambition of individuals, or the lust of glory in nations, torrents of blood have been shed.
(2) Israel was at this time in a very humbled state, but showed signs of reviving. Amaziah probably thought it was a good time to bring back the revolted tribes to the scepter of Judah.
(3) The Israelites had given some provocation in attacks upon the cities of Judah (2 Chronicles 25:13). This at least would furnish a pretext.
2. Its nature. The challenge took the form of a message to Joash, "Come, let us look one another in the face." In giving such a challenge, Amaziah did not count the cost (cf. Luke 14:31). He was puffed up with conceit, and did not reflect on the superior military abilities of Joash, already beginning to be displayed in his wars with the Syrians, or on his larger forces. Rather, Joash's rising reputation roused in him the ambition to measure himself against Joash. When men are left to themselves there are no limits to the extent to which their folly will lead them.
3. Its lack of sanction from God. This time God was not with Amaziah in his undertaking. No prophet's voice commanded, sanctioned, or promised blessings on the war. Amaziah was acting on his own motion, and in reliance solely on his own strength. God had left him, as he left Saul. In such condition a man but plunges on to his ruin.
II. THE HAUGHTY REPLY. Joash perfectly took the measure of his challenger, and answered him according to his folly.
1. His insulting parable. First, he replied by a parable. He told how the briar (or thistle) of Lebanon sent to the cedar of Lebanon, demanding that the daughter of the cedar should be given in wife to his son. But a wild beast of the forest passed by, and trode down the briar. The idea of the parable is, of course, to ridicule the presumption of Amaziah in venturing to put himself on an equality with Joash. It was meant to sting and insult the Jewish king by intimating to him that in Joash's eyes he was no more than a contemptible briar in comparison with the majestic cedars. On it we remark
(1) that Joash also cannot be acquitted of overweening arrogance. It is a scornful, haughty spirit which breathes in his parable. From the Israelitish point of view the ten tribes were the kingdom of Israel; Judah was the isolated tribe. But the state of Israel at this time, and in the recent past, did not warrant these boastful metaphors. The cedar, as well as the briar, had been pretty well trodden down by the wild beast of the forest. This arrogant spirit, moreover, is apt to lead its possessor into the error of despising things simply because they are outwardly weak. In this case the King of Israel very justly took the boastful Amaziah's measure. But it does not always follow that the cedar has the right to lord it over the briar. It is no uncommon thing for the weak things of the world to overcome the mighty (1 Corinthians 1:27, 28). David was a feeble stripling in Goliath's sight, but Goliath fell before him (1 Samuel 16:43-51). The numbers may be few, but if they have a good cause, are inspired by faith, and go forward at God's call, one will chase a thousand (Deuteronomy 32:30; Joshua 23:10).
(2) Nevertheless, the parable was just in so far as Amaziah was matching himself against one who, as the event showed, was greatly his superior. Joash was by far the abler soldier, and had larger forces. Amaziah wished to show himself his equal, but lacked the Power of taking a just estimate of his own capabilities. This is one of the first conditions of a man's strength - to know himself. "How many men may you meet in middle life whose career has been marked by bitter disappointments, and whose hearts have been soured by these! They began with vaulting hopes which have never been realized; and so they blame what they call their adverse fate. But you see the effect of one great blunder which has pursued them all their lives - you see that they have never sought to know themselves. They began in a fool's paradise, and they have never made their escape from it. A more exact and modest estimate of Their own powers, a clear and honest apprehension of their own capacity, a readiness to do the work within their limits, the work they were meant to do, and they had been spared many bitter hours."
2. His contemptuous advice. Following up his parable, Joash gave the King of Judah a piece of advice, scornfully and contemptuously expressed, but such advice as, on the whole, Amaziah would have done well to take.
(1) He touched truly enough the motive of his foolish challenge. "Thou hast indeed smitten Edom, and thine heart is lifted up." A measure of success turns the heads of some people, inflates their ideas of themselves, and incapacitates them for sober calculation of the future.
(2) He bids him content himself with what he has achieved, and tarry at home. The tone is most insulting, implying the most perfect contempt for Amaziah's threatened attack; but the advice was wise. Amaziah was a fool to pro-yoke a needless war, and run himself and his kingdom into danger from a mere motive of vain-glory.
(3) He predicts to him what will happen if he persists in his foolish course. "Why shouldest thou meddle to thy hurt, that thou shouldest fall, even thou, and Judah with thee?" It perhaps was not to be expected that Amaziah should take advice so unpalatable, so tauntingly conveyed, so wounding to his pride and royal honor. But the result showed that Joash had not overstated his case. Amaziah meddled truly to his hurt., and he fell, even he, and Judah with him. It is the fatality of a foolish mind that it is impregnable to considerations which would show it its folly.
III. THE CRUSHING DEFEAT. Amaziah, as was to be expected, would not hear. No obstinate man does. He went on his foolish, headstrong way, and brought down upon himself an avalanche of trouble.
1. The army was defeated. He and Joash met in battle, and his army was utterly routed. It is characteristic teat the fight took place at Beth-shemesh, in the territory of Judah. This shows that Joash was the first to move when he saw that war was inevitable. While Amaziah was dallying and mustering his men, Joash was already on the march, and took the offensive. For victory of any kind, much depends on promptitude, alertness, and activity on the part of the assailant.
2. The king was taken prisoner. Joash "took Amaziah." How long the king remained a captive is not said. He was probably delivered up after "hostages" had been given. But the humiliation was great and bitter. The people of Judah never forgot or forgave it.
3. Jerusalem was captured and plundered. The royal city shared the fate of its king. It had no alternative but to open its gates to the conqueror. Joash did not spare it. To mark the completeness of his conquest he,
(1) brake down four hundred cubits of the city wall on the side towards Ephraim;
(2) plundered the house of the Lord and the palace of the king of their treasures. The treasuries had been emptied in the preceding reign for Hazael (2 Kings 12:18); now a second time their contents are taken away. Miserable people, and miserable king! No wonder burning indignation existed against Amaziah, who had led the kingdom into this trouble. We may see some parallel to it in the feelings of the French towards their emperor after the Franco-Prussian War. The lesson had been taught in the preceding reign, but Amaziah had not profited by his father's misfortunes; and, having followed his footsteps in sin, was now reaping the consequences in even severer chastisement. - J.O.
Come, let us look one another in the face.
I. LOOK GOD IN THE FACE. Behold Him as He is. It is, alas, so easy to get wrong conceptions of the Most High, and much enmity to Him has its beginning thus. "They hated me without a cause." If men knew God better, they would dread Him less and trust Him more. "Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord." Concerning what? why, the very point of which we have been speaking: false notions of the Lord. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." You fancy Me to be harsh and hard: get rid of that thought; I delight in mercy. To look God in the face is no difficult matter now that Christ has come. He is "the image of the invisible God." See the one, and you see the other. The tenderness which said to a desolate widow in Nain, "Don't cry; I will raise your son"; the power which subdued the crested waves and-hushed the roaring winds by a single word; the holiness which took no taint from contact with publicans and sinners — reveal the attributes of Jehovah. Agnosticism erect again the ancient Athenian altar, and writes on it, "to the Unknown God."; but Paul still cries, "Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you."
II. LOOK YOURSELF IN THE FACE. "If any be a hearer of the word, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass." by the light of Scripture we may see our own characters; and this self-scrutiny is eminently important. Socrates said: "We should not live a life which is not subject to examination." for lack of this, some are astoundingly ignorant of their true condition. What they say to others might well be spoken of and by themselves, "I have not the pleasure of knowing you." Nathan proved this in respect of David, and the very church which thought that it had need of nothing was pronounced by Christ "poor and miserable, and blind, and naked." As it is in the literary, so it is in the moral world: authors are often bad judges of their own productions. John Foster wished that he could write like Johnson or Young, hut the fact is that he wrote better than either. Sir Walter Scott published the "Waverley Novels anonymously, lest they should injure his fame as a poet; but posterity thinks more of his stories than his verses. Something like this holds good of us: we may be ludicrously mistaken regarding ourselves. To avoid such blunders, let us use "the balances of the sanctuary." We should employ the scales and weights which God has provided. Paul told the Corinthians that they were "not wise," because they measured themselves by themselves, and compared themselves with themselves.
III. LOOK MAN IN THE FACE. A needless counsel, some may complain. Don't we do it? Nothing is so common as the wish to see people's faces. We all believe in the vis-a-vis position. The pen is not enough; we want the countenance also. If you hear of a great writer or preacher, you at once want to see him. When we visit friends we call it "going to see them" Nevertheless there is need of the advice: see men. We are much too isolated. English folk are what Matthew Arnold calls insular. If the various classes of society had more intercourse with each other, it would be better for us all round. Were the cultured and intellectual to mingle with Philistines rather oftener, the latter would get a little of their refinement. Communion between the rich and the poor would hardly fail in producing sympathy on the part of the one. and confidence on the part of the other. Christians might learn a lesson here. They keep too much apart. Only lately it was asked at a metropolitan meeting of our denomination — Where now is the continuing in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship of which we read in the early Church? One other thought. How many misunderstandings in social life might be prevented or removed, if we looked each other in the face! You think that a friend is cooler in his manner than of yore, or he has done something which you interpret as hostile to you. Don't brood over it. If you do, your suspicions and imagination will blow the spark into a flame which will consume your comfort. Visit him. Be candid. "Have it out," as we say, and the probability is that a few minutes' plain dealing on both sides will put the whole business right.
(T. R. Stevenson.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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