We have a longer text to read this evening and so I will try to keep my textual comment to a minimum though I do need to make a number of comments as we go just so you appreciate what it is you are reading.
The year is 848 B.C. Jehoram, king of Israel, of whom we have been reading of late, is a different man than the son of Jehoshaphat, which probably accounts for the difference in spelling in v. 16 of what is in fact the same name. The king of Israel’s name is spelled Jehoram in 3:1 but Joram here to make the difference between the two men easier to grasp. We last heard of the southern kingdom of Judah in chapter 3 when Jehoshaphat participated in Jehoram’s ill-fated campaign against Moab. After two faithful, or relatively faithful, kings, Judah now gets a king who shares the same contempt for Yahweh’s covenant as does its northern neighbor.
That woman, the daughter of Ahab, was Athaliah, identified in v. 26 and of whom we will read more in chapter 11.
As before, Judah stands under God’s blessing in a way that Israel does not. It is there that the line of David continues, not in Israel.
The Hebrew is difficult but the following verses make it clear that it was Judah’s army that was defeated and Jehoram failed to keep Edom subject to him. Jehoram’s victory was to escape with his life!
Libnah was a town on the border of Philistia. So with Edom to the east and Libnah to the west, Jehoram’s already small empire was being whittled away.
It is disconcerting to learn that Ahaziah of Judah began to reign in Jehoram of Israel’s 12th year because we have already read in 3:1 that Jehoram would reign but 12 years. Ahaziah of Judah would reign only one year because, as we will read in chapter 9, he was to be assassinated.
This was an assignment the Lord had originally entrusted to Elijah (1 Kings 19:6) and which Elijah, apparently, had passed on to Elisha. The instruction to run is perhaps best explained by assuming that Elisha’s messenger didn’t know how the other commanders would react to Jehu’s claim to be the new king of Israel or his intention to murder Jehoram.
Jezebel’s victims would have included all the prophets of the Lord she had killed, viz. those that Obadiah had not been able to hide as we read in l Kings 18, and as well as Naboth and his sons. There may, of course, have been many others.
Was there still oil on Jehu’s head? Or did they recognize the young man as a servant of Elisha? We are not told why they were so concerned to know what the messenger from Elisha had said to Jehu.
Interestingly, in Assyrian inscriptions, Jehu is referred to as “Jehu son of Omri,” and so was regarded by the Assyrians as a legitimate successor to Jehoram (or Joram), king of Israel. [Wiseman, 219]
Perhaps the king of Israel’s lack of success on the battlefield had already eroded his support in the army. These commanders seemed very ready to back Jehu’s coup.
Leaving instructions to his staff to keep the news of the coup from escaping Ramoth Gilead, Jehu headed for Jezreel where Jehoram was recovering from wounds. He was accompanied by a force of some size. The ESV reads “company,” the NIV “troops,” and one commentator, “a multitude.”
In high irony the meeting, seemingly accidental at this particular spot, takes place on the property that formerly belonged to Naboth, that is before he was murdered on Jezebel’s orders. The narrator obviously continues to believe that it is really Naboth’s property. In any case, neither Jehoram nor Ahaziah suspected any danger from Jehu. Perhaps they thought that this was what was left of his army fleeing the Syrians at Ramoth Gilead. [Provan, 213] They wanted to know what was going on.
Jehu understood clearly enough that for Yahweh and his prophets the issue was Israel’s toleration of paganism, especially Baalism, the religion of Jezebel, Jehoram’s mother.
So Jehu’s execution of Jehoram was a calculated fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy of the destruction of Ahab’s house for its sins against the Lord and his people.
This statement is necessary to explain the facts that Jehoram reigned only 12 years, that Ahaziah began to reign in Jehoram’s 12th year, and that Ahaziah reigned for but one year. 8:25 says that Ahaziah began to reign in Jehoram’s 12th year and here we read that he began to reign in Jehoram’s 11th year. Why the difference between two texts so close to one another? Apparently the regnal years were counted differently in north and south and we have here an effort to rationalize those two approaches to the counting of the regnal years. [E.R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, rev. ed., 58, 101] Differences of this type are actually common in the OT history, common also in ANE annals and are much better understood today than used to be the case.
Why Jezebel dressed this way is debated in the commentaries and quite different explanations are offered. Some think she was dressing to be seductive. But perhaps the simplest explanation is that she knew she was about to die, she wasn’t going to escape Jehu, and wished to meet her end looking like a queen. [House, 290] As another commentator suggests, she was the kind of woman who intended to depart this life in style! [Hobbs, 118]
She taunted Jehu by referring to Zimri, who also assassinated his king; by doing so she also implied that his rebellion was to be another seven day wonder.
Jehu forgot the part of Elijah’s prophecy about how Jezebel’s body would be eaten by dogs, or he didn’t take it literally, or, now that he was king, he was having a sudden fit of noblesse oblige.
We see a lot of animal carcasses not far away from our cabin in Colorado; wild animals and sometimes the occasional cow or horse. They are very rarely there in the complete skeleton. The scavengers have pulled it all apart and taken the flesh on the bone back to their dens to enjoy.
Again, the point is made emphatically that what happened to Jezebel had been forecast precisely by the Lord’s prophets. The Lord’s word had been proved true once again.
The history of Israel’s and Judah’s kings can begin to appear to be the unending repetition of the same story. Some decent kings in the south may delay the progress of unbelief but rapidly in the north and with occasional interruptions in the south the nations sink further into the spirit of rebellion against God and draw inexorably nearer to the day of their judgment. What is the book of kings but a long prelude to the inevitable catastrophe?
No doubt that is the main drift of the narrative and that story is immensely important and instructive. One period after another of church history, for example, as followed a similar course. Since God chose to give us this story in detail it is not ours to complain but rather to ask what he wants us to gain from the sometimes wearying repetition of this dismal spiritual history. This is all the more necessary a question for us to ask because, for these and other reasons, most Christians today never have this part of God’s Word preached to them and comparatively few ever read it for themselves.
A few years ago a survey was conducted to assess the subjects of preaching in the Presbyterian Church in America, our denomination. The sample size was large – some 200 pulpit ministers in the PCA took the survey – and the conclusions were very interesting. For example, in regard to parts of the Bible preached the survey results were as follows:
100% of respondents had preached within the last three years from the Gospel of John and from Paul. Only 11% had preached in the same period from the historical books of the OT and only 16% from the Minor Prophets. Less than a third had preached from the Major Prophets in that same three year period, slightly more than a quarter had preached from the Old Testament poets, less than a third had preached from Acts, but 96% had preached from the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Did you hear that? Only 11% of the ministers surveyed had preached over a three year period from the historical books of the Old Testament, from Kings for example. That is, only one in ten PCA church members would have heard any sermon from the OT history books. I doubt the numbers would have changed much if the survey had covered the previous 5 years or the previous 7 years. I also suspect that the passages that might have been preached from the historical books by the 11% of PCA preachers who preached from them would have been the well-known passages, more easily turned into the kind of sermon our congregations have learned to expect: a sermon on David and Goliath, for example, or Elijah on Mt. Carmel. I suspect of the 16% who had preached from the minor prophets, if you removed Jonah, the 16% would have become 3 or 4%. I understand some of the reasons for this. Most churches no longer have an evening service and a minister is unlikely to devote his only sermon of the week to 2 Kings 8 and 9. Moreover, sermons in our PCA world nowadays tend to concentrate on a few themes and they are not the themes that the author of 2 Kings hammered away at.
As a result preachers typically do not any longer make their way through chapter upon chapter of sin and judgment such as we find in these chapters of the book of Kings. But there is much that is lost when such large tracts of Holy Scripture are ignored. There is a cast of mind that is formed when the great themes of this Book are dinned into a willing hearer of the Word of God. Think of those themes, such themes as we have before us tonight.
- There is the obvious emphasis on the absolute truthfulness of God’s Word. The writer of Kings is at pains to remind us as we read that things happened precisely as the Lord’s prophets had said they would. Long before this an unnamed prophet and then Elijah himself had forecast the violent end of the house of Ahab, and Elijah had specifically prophesied the violent death of Jezebel. But time passed and the house of Ahab lived on. In 9:25-26 and 36-37 we are left in no doubt that the narrator wants us particularly to notice that the events that had unfolded were precisely those that the prophet had foretold. Confidence in the Word of God, the absolute rock-ribbed assurance that it is true and that all of its prophecies come to pass is this author’s theme. Much of the life of faith depends on your certainty, your confidence, your assurance in the absolute reliability of God’s Word.
- Second, there is the revelation of the divine wrath and of the fact that judgment begins with the house of God. Both evil kings died violently; Jezebel did as well. They were being punished appropriately for the violent deeds they had done, the murder of the Lord’s prophets and of Naboth and his sons, but especially for their unbelief. Jehoram of Judah found that he had no strength to deal with his enemies and they successfully revolted against him. Jehoram’s son Ahaziah then made an alliance with Israel in defiance of Israel’s moral and spiritual corruption. These men and the queen mother, like multitudes of others, got precisely what they deserved. The sins they had committed had come back upon their own heads. The way of the transgressor is hard! There is a serious, solemn cast of mind that is formed by taking biblical history to heart.
- Third we find in this history repeated demonstrations of the absolute sovereignty of God and of the helplessness of men in their rebellion in the face of that sovereignty. The Lord plucked a general off Jehoram’s staff, gave him the throne, and used him to put an end to the kings of Israel and Judah and to Ahab’s widow in one stroke. Jehu had no difficulty executing his orders: the army backed him, Jehoram and Ahaziah unknowingly fell right into his hands; even Jezebel’s eunuchs stood ready to do his deadly work for him. It says something about Jezebel, doesn’t it, that not even her palace staff stood up for her. But take the point, we knew chapters before what was going to happen but we didn’t know how. But when the Lord struck, Ahab’s family was wiped out at a stroke, including that part of it that was now living in Jerusalem. (Athaliah will be killed shortly). It is a confident, assured cast of mind that is formed by the reverent reading of this history. God is on his throne, he can make his purposes come to pass. Everyone is his servant, intentionally or not, when the time comes.
- A fourth theme of this history – preached history, for that is what Kings is; history with theological interpretation and application provided – is that the judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous is often delayed. We’ve been waiting a long time for the destruction of Ahab’s house since that destruction was first prophesied. Much more evil has been done in the meantime. God is patient, not desiring the death of the wicked but that all should come to repentance. He waits, but not forever.
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness he grinds all. [Longfellow]
It is a patient cast of mind that is formed by the application of this large part of the Word of God to a reverent believing heart.
What is so important about all of this, of course, is that nothing that we read here in Kings is not happening today: 1) everywhere we look we see the evidence of the truth of God’s Word; 2) all around us is the evidence of divine wrath and judgment; this world rings with divine judgment; 3) everywhere we look we find demonstrated in every conceivable way man’s utter inability to escape judgment of God, to live in happiness and security apart from God or to frustrate God’s purposes in the world; and 4) always and everywhere the church waits for the Lord’s justice and the vindication of those who trust in him. There is a different cast of mind and heart in those who absorb this biblical history, learn its lessons, and feel the force of its teaching.
Dare I say it, what we find in Kings is more of the masculine note in biblical spirituality: the great themes of sin and judgment, of divine power, and of patient endurance as we await the revelation of the purposes of God. I’m not sure you realize how little these themes surface any longer in evangelical preaching, no matter that they are the great subjects of vast tracts of Holy Scripture. People hear of God’s love, as they should and must. They do not hear – they virtually never hear – that God is angry with the wicked every day, or that he is storing up his wrath against the day of judgment, or that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, or that he is a consuming fire, or that apart from true and living faith in Christ Jesus there remains only the fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. If they never read parts of the Bible like Kings, they will still sometimes read that message because it is everywhere in the Bible, but they won’t have it dinned into them like it is dinned into those who read OT history with an honest heart. And the more unwelcome, the more difficult any message of God’s Word, the more we need it dinned into us by constant and emphatic repetition. I want you to be a people who love the grace of God and who revel in the forgiveness of sins and the new life of love that Christ has given us. But I also want you to be people who live in this dying world of ours with eyes wide open to the moral measure of human life, to the necessity of obedience to God, to the majesty and seriousness of divine wrath, and to the unqualified dependability of the Word of God. I want you to love God and I want you to fear him. I want you never to doubt God’s terrible and wonderful power. I want you to have the courage of these convictions so that while you must live in a world that is increasingly hostile to your convictions as Christians you yourselves will live in obedience to God, no matter the mockery of the world, and serve the Lord with confidence and endure hardship with patience in the sure and certain hope of your vindication and of God’s revelation of his plan and purpose in due time.
But apart from those great over-arching themes being reinforced by repetition, the histories of the Bible also supply us with unending specific demonstrations of many truths of God’s law and the life of faith. It is in these narratives that so much else that is taught us in the Word of God is illustrated and confirmed and the teaching made memorable. And that is certainly the case tonight.
I want you to notice from our text this evening the galactically important principle – drawn explicitly to our attention over and over by the author of Kings – that spiritually mixed marriage is death to true faith in Jesus Christ.
Why did Jehoram, the son of a good and faithful king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, depart so completely from the ways of his father and his grandfather? Why did loyalty to God’s covenant collapse so suddenly in the palace in Jerusalem? The narrator tells us in 8:18. Jehoram had married a daughter of Ahab. The same practice that had undone Solomon’s wise rule years before now brought an end to a short succession of good kings in Judah. Even sadder to relate, it was Jehoshaphat himself who had secured Ahab’s daughter for his son Jehoram. It was a marriage made for diplomatic purposes, as Solomon’s marriages were, to cement a political alliance between Judah and Israel, but it was a marriage that destroyed the faith of Judah’s royal house. Jehoshaphat should have known better. Any king after Solomon should have known better. How little the lessons of life are learned from one generation to another!
But our narrator is not done. Ahaziah was as bad as his father and there was a reason for that. We read in v. 26: “His mother’s name was Athaliah.” Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel and the granddaughter of Omri. That made Ahaziah, as we read again for emphasis in v. 27, “son-in-law to the house of Ahab.” These kinds of comments reveal the author’s emphasis and theme. He is telling us how Jehoram and Ahaziah lost touch with the covenant of God. He is telling us, humanly speaking, why Ahaziah got an arrow in his back! It happened because of his unbelieving, idolatry loving mother who married into a faithful household of the tribe of Judah and the family of David. He was raised a pagan in what was supposed to be a faithful Israelite home. We’re going to hear more of Athaliah and learn that this woman was no shrinking violet. She knew what she believed and knew what she wanted and was determined to get her way. She was Jezebel’s daughter! No wonder she bent her husband and no wonder her son was an out and out pagan, though he would certainly have known his grandfather who was a devout son of Abraham.
Of course in the Bible it is immaterial whether the unbelieving influence is wielded by the husband or the wife. The consistent lesson is that, in whatever way it is made, a mixed marriage, spiritually speaking, a faithful man or woman marrying an unfaithful spouse, will lead to spiritual disaster and not only in the first generation. It is a fixed law and only very rarely does God’s grace provide the exception. Jehoshaphat had in many ways provided a fine example for his son, but all of that was no match for the contrary influence of a pagan wife.
This is a matter of law in Holy Scripture: Christians are commanded to marry only “in the Lord.” But it is in the histories of the Bible, such as this history in Kings, that the importance of this commandment is driven home to the conscience.
The celebrated lay evangelist of 19th century Scotland, Brownlow North, whose preaching was used to such great effect in the revival in Ireland and Scotland in the mid-1800s, has a sermon on the subject of spiritually mixed marriage. It was a temptation then as it is now. And in the beginning of that sermon he says:
“I find no sin recorded [in Scripture], if we except the sin of our first parents, which has brought greater curse upon the earth, or which is more positively forbidden, both in the Old and New Testament.” [Wilt Thou Go with This Man? 112]
He is speaking about marrying outside of the faith. That may sound extreme to you, but it is unquestionably true, for no other sin has so necessarily such long lasting and fatal consequences for so many.
- The genealogy of Cain that we find in Genesis 4 and the genealogy of Seth that we find in Genesis 5 give us the successions of generations of unbelief and of faith. But in the beginning of chapter 6 we find the two lines mixing in marriage and the result, as must always be the case, is not that the unclean line was purified, but that the clean line was polluted. And that led in time to a world so full of unbelief and sin that it had to be destroyed by the flood.
- We remember the concern of Abraham and then of Isaac that their sons not marry Canaanite women. They knew very well what danger such a marriage would pose to the covenant seed.
- In the Law of Moses (Deut. 7:1-3; Josh. 23:12-13) Israel was forbidden to intermarry with the Canaanites. When in defiance of those commandments she did exactly that, the results were predictable. As we read in Judges 3:4:
“The Israelites lived among the Canaanites… They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.”
- Of course, already in Kings we have witnessed the sad tale of Solomon’s later reign, a wise man with a heart devoted to the Lord, who was utterly undone by the pagan wives he married. As we read in 1 Kings 11: “his wives turned away his heart after other gods.” This man who built the temple of Yahweh, eventually built temples to other gods. How could it have happened? Marrying unbelieving women; that’s how!
- Then following the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah the sin of mixture with paganism, so cruelly punished in the exile, began to take root again through spiritual intermarriage being practiced widely among the returning exiles. So great was the danger in Ezra and Nehemiah’s view that draconian measures were taken to stamp out the practice. Cruel measures were enforced. Husband’s and wives’ separated. Children effectively abandoned.
- Malachi emphasizes the consequences of this sin, which amounts to polluting the well from which the church’s future was to be drawn.
- And so in the NT: “do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14-18), and marry “only in the Lord.” [1 Cor. 7:39]
All through the Bible there is this drumbeat: the massive, long-term consequences of believers’ marriages that are not founded on a shared faith and commitment to the covenant that God has made with his people and to the life of faith in Jesus Christ.
But such is our flesh, such the subtlety of the Devil, such the draw of the world, that no matter this bitter history, no matter the law of God, no matter the solemn warnings of the Word of God, no matter such examples of the catastrophe of mixed marriages such as we have before us tonight, Christian young people in particular will find a reason to marry someone who is not an out and out Christian. She is moving in the right direction, he will say; or she has not had my background but seems to be drawn to the Christian faith, he will say. Or, he really is a Christian, he just hasn’t been living like one. Or, better, but we’re so deeply in love. As the great theologian, Debbie Boone, once sung, “how can it be wrong if it feels so right”?
But here is where a biblical mind steps in to assert the real issue:
- Do you love this person more than God?
- Do you find it acceptable to risk disobedience to a direct commandment of God’s law?
- Are you so committed to your present happiness and contentment that you are willing to risk the salvation of your children and grandchildren?
Love for God and his law, obedience from the heart will not indulge in pettifogging. The soul that loves God wants to do what pleases him in the confidence that what pleases him is always what is right and best for us and our long term welfare. It has no interest in risking its own soul or the souls of others for the present pleasure of a relationship with someone who has little or nothing to commend him or her as a follower of Jesus Christ. As Jehoram and many others have discovered before and after him: if you marry a child of the devil, you will soon have all manner of trouble with your father-in-law.
Consider for a moment the ghastly result of a spiritually mixed marriage. In the intimacy of that most profound and consequential relationship, one is going to heaven and the other to hell; one loves God and seeks to order his or her life accordingly, the other not only does not love God, the Scripture says he or she really hates God. One will care for nothing so much as that their children come to love and then serve the Lord; the other is by word and by example undermining that result at every turn. Sometimes it cannot be helped, one spouse becomes a Christian after marriage or one leaves the faith after marriage. We know of such situations. And God can give grace; but it is never a situation that one should create by his or her own choice. That is asking God to withdraw his blessing and he almost always does! So the Scripture teaches.
After all, if this is God’s first and virtually only commandment regarding making a marriage, then surely it ought to be our first and most important consideration in choosing a mate!
Young people, here is the first and last question to ask about someone with whom you might have a serious relationship: how deep does his or her commitment to Jesus Christ run? Is he or she an out and out Christian? Is Jesus Christ very evidently the love and the purpose of his or her life? Is she the kind of Christian, is he, with whom I can share a life of devotion to the Lord, his Word, his church, his cause, his name? If the answer is “no,” you know what you need to do.
Let me finish with some practical advice concerning this vital piece of biblical wisdom that has been placed before us in flesh and blood, in life and death in this text we have read this evening.
- As always in the Christian life, what ought not to be done ought not to be approached. Don’t date unbelievers; a fixed law. Don’t enter into a romantic relationship with anyone you can’t marry. You run the very great risk of getting in so deep you can’t or won’t want to get out. Your feelings for the person risk becoming so strong you can’t bear to break it off. You will begin to make excuses to yourself and others and reject the advice of people who are thinking more clearly than you are. I’ve seen this happen too many times in my life to think anything else but that you ignore this advice to your peril. Ask the Devil to tempt you and he will certainly oblige. Far too much is at stake, in your life and the life of your children to risk it by toying with God’s Word and dating an unbeliever. Why do your parents teach you never to open the door to strangers when you are at home alone? Because once the door is open it is much harder, if not impossible to get it closed again. Keep it locked and you’ll never run that risk.
- Promise your parents and the Lord, or promise your ministers or your closest Christian friends, make a vow, that you will not proceed with a relationship if they do not think the person a serious enough Christian. Do it now when it is easy to do, before your feelings are involved. Do it now when you are thinking clearly and your feelings aren’t in the way.
- Practice your faith in all your relationships, all your friendships. Practice it with a vengeance! It is the best way to separate those whom you ought not to marry from those you may and even should.
- Parents, take care that your children are thoroughly schooled in this obligation and wisdom. All you have done preparing them for a godly life, as Jehoshaphat probably did for Jehoram, will be for little or nothing, if they marry spouses who turn their hearts away to other gods. And if you love your grandchildren and want them to be with you in heaven, you will teach your children how much depends upon their choice of a spouse who is a committed, heart-felt follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
No one can say that the Lord has not spoken. He has spoken in his law and then he has given us powerful illustrations in his Word to make sure we understand the burden of his commandments: spiritually mixed marriages usually kill faith, if not in the first generation, then in the second. There are a great many people in the world today who are unbelievers and will die as unbelievers, humanly speaking, because a Christian ancestor of theirs married an unbeliever and killed true faith in that family line and by the time it got to him or her toxic unbelief was all that remained. What I’m sure no one wants sitting here this evening is a Jehu from the Lord putting an arrow in your grandchild’s back!