Description / Transcription
It’s a joy and a privilege to be back here at Christ Covenant. When I asked Kevin DeYoung to come and speak for me, we have, in the summer months we don’t have adult Sunday schools, we have a series of lectures on either side of our two services and we wanted Kevin to come and do the lectures and he agreed and I said well why don’t we, why don’t we swap pulpits? And he said sure. And a month, two months later, he says “could you preach a sermon on 2 Chronicles 21?” And I hesitated and I said, “well, yeah, sure” thinking in the back of my mind that 25 years ago I actually preached through 1 and 2 Chronicles, I know that somewhere in a box somewhere were notes from those sermons, handwritten, days before laptops, and a couple of weeks ago, maybe less, a week and a half ago I thought I need to find that sermon [laughter] and eventually found the box and sure enough, there were sermons and I went through them, once, twice, seven times, eight times. There was a sermon on every single chapter except this one. [laughter]
And then I thought what is this chapter about anyway? Who is Jehoram? And he’s a guy about whom Scripture says at the time of his death that he died and no one regretted it. And I thought, “well, thanks, Kevin.” [laughter] He had the freedom to choose whatever text he wanted. His top drawer text. So, you may blame Kevin, this was his choice. That’s given you enough time to find 2 Chronicles 21, and let me read the chapter.
“Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Jehoram his son reigned in his place. He had brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat: Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariah, Michael, and Shephatiah; all these were the sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. Their father gave them great gifts of silver, gold, and valuable possessions, together with fortified cities in Judah, but he gave the kingdom to Jehoram, because he was the firstborn. When Jehoram had ascended the throne of his father and was established, he killed all his brothers with the sword, and also some of the princes of Israel. Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”
“In his days Edom revolted from the rule of Judah and set up a king of their own. Then Jehoram passed over with his commanders and all his chariots, and he rose by night and struck the Edomites who had surrounded him and his chariot commanders. So Edom revolted from the rule of Judah to this day. At that time Libnah also revolted from his rule, because he had forsaken the Lord, the God of his fathers.”
“Moreover, he made high places in the hill country of Judah and led the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom and made Judah go astray. And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father, ‘Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel and have enticed Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom, as the house of Ahab led Israel into whoredom, and also you have killed your brothers, of your father’s house, who were better than you, behold, the Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day.'”
“And the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabians who are near the Ethiopians. And they came up against Judah and invaded it and carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son.”
“And after all this the Lord struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease. In the course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony. His people made no fire in his honor, like the fires made for his fathers. He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he departed with no one’s regret. They buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”
Well, thank you , Kevin. [laughter]
So, Jehoshaphat is dead, and he had six children, six sons, whom Elijah, who of course is testifying, prophesying in the north, and he is maybe just a few years Elijah would probably have died during the reign of Jehoram and he sends in a letter that’s mentioned here in verse 13, that the brothers of Jehoram were better and more able men than the oldest brother, Jehoram, who is the king. And it seems they were given charge over fortified cities in Judah and thereby served their father and the kingdom. And Jehoram was the oldest son of these six and the tale told here is unseemly and gross and you wonder why in the world is it in the Bible in the first place, let alone what on earth has it got to do with us in 2017 [sic]?
And I’d be shocked, indeed, I’d be totally shocked, if there weren’t many of you thinking just that as we read this passage. What in the world has this got to do with us, in Charlotte, in North Carolina, in 2017 [sic]?
And Paul has an answer for you. As he writes to the Corinthians and he’s referring to the period of the wilderness, wanderings, and so on in the time of Moses, he tells them that these things happened by way of example to us, and then he goes on to make a model application to the Corinthians: Do not do what they did.
And I believe that the Old Testament whilst it has a grand narrative of proclaiming the Gospel and the redemptive purposes of God so the entirety of the Old Testament is pointing forward to the coming of Jesus, in one way or another. But on the microcosm level, not on the 36,000 feet level but on the microcosm level, it’s teaching us characters who served God well and who served God poorly, and in some instances disastrously, and here we have the tale of a king in Judah who served eight years, two terms. You have to be listening. [laughter] He served eight years, which is two terms, on the throne in Judah and the text tells you here is the problem: His wife is the daughter of King Ahab of Israel in the north and that is the seed of Judah’s destruction.
What in the world possessed Jehoshaphat to marry his son, his oldest son, to the daughter of Jezebel? Ahab and Jezebel in Israel. And it was out of a sense of some political machination, no doubt, but it sowed the seeds of ruin.
Now, there are three things I want us to see in this text. First of all, the insecurity of an ambitious man, and you see that in verses 4,5 and 6. The insecurity of an ambitious man. He was an insecure man. We read in verse 4 that when Jehoram had ascended the throne of his father and was established he killed all his brothers with a sword and also some of the princes of Israel.
Now, he’s not alone. Horrid and shocking as that is, he’s not alone, of course. Herod the great, at the time of Jesus, and this passage in some ways reminds us immediately of the pogrom that took place in Bethlehem under the aegis of King Herod, Herod’s wife, wasn’t born a Judean. He was a Roman pick to rule the province of Judea, he married into the Judean royal family, in his case by wedding a princess named Mariamne, and this union was supposed to lead to peace but it didn’t, and Herod was insanely possessive and after a bit of back and forth, executed her in 29 B.C. along with her mother, and his surviving sons Alexander and Aristobulus, these two boys arguably had a better claim to the throne than Herod. And Herod and his eldest son by another wife heard that these two princes wanted Herod dead to get vengeance for their mother, and so they were, they were killed.
Or think of Cleopatra, who did something similar. Her two brothers and her husband. Cleopatra married both of her brothers, but they died in suspicious circumstances.
Or just think if you will of the rule of King Henry VIII, and we don’t have time to go into all of the political machination in the reign of King Henry VIII and the people that were executed under his reign, and especially his wives.
Jehoram is ambitious, but he is insecure, and he grasps at power by any means available. He was ruthless. He failed as a leader. He viewed privilege as a right, that the end justifies the means. That might is right. And the root of the problem, as I have suggested, lies in the marriage between Jehoram and his wife, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, and it is a pestilent root, now infecting the kings of Judah and will ultimately lead to Judah’s collapse and demise and eventually into Babylonian exile in 587 B.C.
An insecure man, an ambitious man, and he is in a place of power and a place of privilege and a place of honor and a place of distinction and a place of influence, but he evidently did not love the Lord.
A bad marriage. Yes, a bad marriage can ruin you. Don’t even think about marrying somebody who’s not a Christian, thinking that you’ll win them round. It rarely happens. There are exceptions, but it rarely happens. And in the end, the lack of rapport and the lack of communion and the lack of fellowship and the inability to communicate and find joy at that deepest level of union and communion with Jesus Christ infects that marriage.
The insecurity of an ambitious man.
Secondly, I want to see the judgments of a holy God and it occupies the vast portion of this chapter from verses 8 through to 20. We need to ask ourselves, what is the result of this covenant breaking on the part of Jehoshaphat and on the part of Jehoram, and the chronicler lists and the chronicler is writing perhaps during the time of the exile, though more likely after the time of the exile, and he’s taking the narrative that is already to be found in the books of Kings and so on and he is now giving that narrative, that historical narrative, a theological explanation and a theological twist from the vantage point of hindsight. He can see what the author of Kings cannot see. He can see the hand of the, of the sovereign God. He can see the line of providence, and he lists a series of rebellion and idolatry and invasion. In eight years Jehoram reversed the reformations that had been accomplished by Jehoshaphat; it just took eight years. It just took two terms, to undo everything.
And he introduced idolatry, he introduced the worship of Ba’al, he introduced what Ahab and Jezebel had done in Israel. We read in verse 11 he made high places in the hill country of Judah and led the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom and made Judah go astray. He introduced idolatry into Judah, and temple prostitutes.
You remember how Hosea took a prostitute as a wife to illustrate the privilege of Israel. And what happens? What happens when you break covenant? What happens when you break covenant? And what happens is that God’s curse comes down.
You remember in the book of Deuteronomy when God enters into covenant and, and you’ve got folk on one side of a mountain and folk on another side of a mountain, and one set of folk are shouting blessings and another set of folk are shouting curses. You, you understand that apart from the intervention of the blood of Jesus Christ and apart from the intervention of the Gospel, Jesus took the curse upon Himself and apart from that, that curse would fall upon us.
In this case, it takes place in the form of invasion and Edom, a vassal kingdom to the southeastern borders of Judah, and Edom invades and Jehoram barely escapes with his life and then we read an account in verse 10 at that time Libnah also revolted from his rule and later in verse 16 you have attacks from the Philistines and the Arabs, or the Ethiopians, and you’ve got, you’ve got this, this fractious nature of the kingdom, and he’s losing power and he’s losing control, and, and there is division.
And then most significantly this letter from Elijah, Elijah, the great prophet. Moses and Elijah that summarize the entirety of the Old Testament prophets. Elijah, perhaps the greatest prophet that ever was. Elijah, who was on the Mount of Transfiguration and with, with Jesus. And Elijah writes a letter, raised up to challenge Ahab and Jezebel, that had been his mission, that had been the central core of his ministry. And he told Jehoram what the Lord had said and what the Lord would do and that God was coming in judgment. God was coming in judgment. They would be sent into exile. The Babylonians would come, and Jerusalem would eventually after siege, collapse, reduced to starvation, reduced according to the book of Kings to cannibalism in those final days before the collapse of the city. And the kings of Judah, the final king of Judah, would witness his two sons being killed. It would be the last thing that he would ever see and then his eyes were put out and he was taken in chains to Babylon and we never hear of him ever again, and that was the end of the line of the kings of Judah and the seeds of it are right here.
And there is a principal here that you reap what you sow, you reap what you sow. It’s a principal that Paul enumerates in Galatians, you reap what you sow.
Jehoram had rejected the good, he had rejected God, he had rejected the covenant, he had promoted that which was evil, he had set up idolatry. And God wasn’t going to stand by and idly watch, and he suffered some kind of disease, and the description of it is fairly gross. And it’s a long and intractable and incurable disease and excruciatingly painful and Jehoram’s heart is evidently as hard as stone.
And rather than enlarging the scope of his power through seizing his brother’s cities, he loses control over Libnah and Edom. And then we have this tragic obituary, in verses 19 and 20, that in the course of time at the end of two years his bowels came out because of the disease and he died in great agony. His people made no fire in his honor like the fires made of his father. He was 32 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned either years in Jerusalem, and he departed with no one’s regret.
That’s tragic, shocking, startling, isn’t it? That’s what’s written on his tombstone. Good riddance. A wicked, evil king. Good riddance.
Al Capone’s last words were “My Jesus, mercy” and he needed it. Grouch Marx wanted his epitaph on his tombstone to read “Excuse me, I can’t stand up.” Mel Blanc, the voice of so many characters in Looney Tunes, including Porky Pig, says on his tombstone “That’s all, folks.” Henry Edsel Smith’s says “Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was.” Jeremiah Johnson’s epitaph simply says “I told you I was sick.”
Let me refer to Leslie Ray “Popeye” Charping; he was called “Popeye.” He was born in Galveston on November 20, 1942 and he died in January 2017, “29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved” was what was written on his obituary, 29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved. The obituary goes on to say “at a young age Leslie quickly became a model example of bad parenting combined with mental illness and a complete commitment to drinking, drugs, womanizing, and being generally offensive. Leslie enlisted to serve in the Navy but not so much in a brave and patriotic way but more as part of a plea deal to escape sentencing on criminal charges. Leslie’s hobbies included abusing his family, expediting trips [to heaven] for his beloved family pets that he killed, which he was less skilled with than the previously mentioned hobbies. Leslie’s life served no other obvious purpose. He did not contribute to society or serve his community and he possessed no redeeming qualities besides quick-witted sarcasm which was amusing during his sober days.” Well, that’s his obituary, put in by his family.
Jehoram suffers the righteous indignation of a holy and just God. And my dear friend, apart from Jesus, apart from the Gospel, apart from communion and fellowship with Christ, it is eventually what awaits all. There is a heaven to be gained, but there is a hell to be shunned, and Jehoram is a character that is like Judas in the New Testament; he has no redeeming qualities.
But there’s a third thing I want us to see, and it’s in verse 7. It’s actually at the heart of the narrative and I think it is deliberately put at the very center of the narrative, typical of Hebrew narrative, that the most important thing is not the end, but what’s in the middle. And the third thing is the stubbornness of an inviolable covenant, the stubbornness of an inviolable covenant. From God’s point of view, we read in verse 7, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. This is not yet the end, nor will it be the end when Judah collapses and is sent into Babylon, because God has entered into covenant with the house of David, a covenant that is ordered in all things and sure, God has said through this line Messiah will come.
Imagine. Imagine through this line, Messiah will come, of the house of lineage of King David.
This, this gross man, this, this ugly man, this, this man who dies without anyone regretting it, is part and parcel of the narrative of God to save His people. Imagine!
Because of the covenant that He had made with David and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever, a lamp in the sense perhaps of a beacon like the beacons during the, the, the war of, of when, when Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings, when Minas Tirith is under siege and as the Rohirrim rode into Gondor’s aid and the beacons, you remember, were lit.
Or perhaps the reference to the lamp is to the lighting of the lamp in the temple every day as a sign of God’s presence among His people, perhaps it means that.
But God had made a promise. This is the first king about whom the chronicler is holy negative. No wonder Kevin rode out of town. And yet in this, in this horrible chapter, in this dreadful chapter about a dreadful man, there shines the light of the Gospel, because God makes promises, and God is a promise-keeper. He’s a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God.
So what’s the takeaway? Let me draw two or three things, by way of some application for us to go away with from this dreadful chapter. That God works in messy ways. This is a mess. Judah’s a mess. Jehoram and his wife, they’re a mess, they’re a total mess. It’s ugly, it’s sordid, it’s brutal, savage. It lacks dignity. And God is at work. The thread, the scarlet thread of the promise of God weaves its way through these messy passages of history.
So your life is a mess. Your family is a mess. Your circumstances are a mess. Maybe they’re not as messy as this, but they’re a mess. And in that mess, God’s providence unfolds, and God’s purposes come to fruition. And He hasn’t forgotten that whosoever believes in the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved.
God works in messy ways. God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm, deep and unfathomable minds of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will. Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain, God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.
Christians have a tendency to, there are certain Christians who have a tendency to see the dark side of things and they send e-mails, and I got one this morning, and it was long, and, and there was font size 12 and there was font size 3.5, and then there were bits in bold and then there bits in red, and, and I, I didn’t read it, I just pressed the delete button because I had enough to depress me today in 2 Chronicles 21. [laughter] Thank you very much.
That the world is coming to an end and everything is dark and, and Armageddon is around the corner and death and destruction are coming and we need to hide.
And then there’s God, who rides above it and through it and whose promises are yea and amen, in Jesus Christ.
So do not put your trust in princes, perhaps, is another lesson to learn from this passage. Do not put your trust in princes. This is the week of July 4th, so forgive me. Perhaps there’s a lesson here for civic life. As we approach our nation’s birthday, and though I speak like this, I am an American citizen, all of two years. I have renounced Her Majesty though Her Majesty never renounces her people, so there’s that. [laughter]
We have a nation that is politically divided as perhaps never before, a civic conversation that has lost all civility. And we want to make a difference. We, Christians, the people of God, want to make a difference. We want to be salt and light in a dark place. In the world of education, in the world of business, in the world of the arts, in maintaining fundamental beliefs about marriage between one man and one woman, one biological man and one biological woman. In the joy and privilege of raising children, though grandchildren are much better. [laughter]
Many here were raised with the belief that in the American spirit we can do whatever we desire to do, that we put our minds to do, well, perhaps with God’s help we can do that. And we love our liberties and our freedoms, and our country, and our Constitution, and we need to pray, we need to pray for leaders that we won’t be saying at the end of their term no one regrets their passing.
I was thinking yesterday as I was thinking what in the world has this passage got to say to a congregation on the eve of July 4th, and it has something to say, I think.
And I was thinking yesterday of the first occupant of the White House, John Adams. He served as vice president under George Washington but he was the first president of the White House, who lived in the White House, and the White House wasn’t finished, and when he first moved in, and he moved in late November in the year 1800, and they had to light fires in every room in order to dry out the plaster. And his wife wouldn’t be there for several weeks and he wrote letters, and those letters are extant and they’re part of the nation’s treasure. They’re absolutely remarkable, exquisite letters that will blow you away if you read John Adams’ letters to his wife. And in one of those letters Adams wrote something, and these two sentences were so impressive, these two sentences, and so deeply moved Franklin Roosevelt, that he had it carved into the mantel piece of the state dining room, and when Harry Truman supervised the rebuilding of the White House, he insisted that the inscription remain where it is today, and when John F. Kennedy was president, he had the inscription carved into the mantel piece in marble, and it said this: “I pray heaven,” this is Adams writing to his wife, “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
Well, we may have to modify the men part, but it’s a great prayer, isn’t it? It’s a great aspiration. Lord, don’t ever give us a Jehoram in a place of power and authority and civic rule.
Let’s pray together. Father, this, this is an extraordinary chapter, a dark chapter in the pages of the Old Testament, perhaps among the darkest, and we tremble because there go I and there go we apart from the grace of God. And so we pray, now this morning, as Your Word teaches us and exhorts us and sometimes causes us to be amazed and wonder. Sometimes Scripture grabs us by our lapels and tugs us in another direction and Father we pray as we give You thanks that You are a God who remembers covenant, You remember a promise in Jesus Christ that whosoever believes shall be saved, and that having begun a good work, you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ, but we tremble, Lord, because Your Word contains so many exhortations to persevere, and not to look back and not to fall away, and we’ve had many friends who have fallen away and have given up and now we wonder if their hearts ever truly loved you at all, or whether they feigned that belief. We thank You, Lord, for Your mercy to us, watch over us, bless us as a church of Christ, and bless our nation in this her birthday week, and help us never to take anything for granted, but help us, we pray, to be a salt and a light in a dark place, and grant that the Gospel will go forth in all of its purity and power and grant, we pray, those who rule about whom may never be said when they pass away no one regretted it. May the best of men and women rule and govern, for wise and godly ends, we pray, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.