John Henry Newman.

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smite him ; or his day shall come to die ; or he shall descend into battle
and perish." David retired from the enemy's camp ; and when at a
safe distance, roused Saul's guards, and blamed them for their negligent
watch, which had allowed a stranger to approach the person of their
kino-. Saul was moved the second time ; the miserable man, as if
waking from a dream which hung about him, said, " I have sinned ;

return, my son David behold, I have played the fool, and

have erred exceedingly." He added, truth overcoming him, " Blessed
be thou, my son David ; thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt
still prevail.

How beautiful are these passages in the history of the chosen king
of Israel ! How do they draw our hearts towards Him, as one whom
in his private character it must have been an extreme privilege and a
great delight to know ! Surely the blessings of the patriarchs descended
in a united flood upon " the lion of the tribe of Judah," the type of the
true Redeemer who was to come. He inherits the prompt faith and
mao-nanimity of Abraham ; he is simple as Isaac ; he is humble as Ja-
cob ; he has the youthful wisdom and self-possession, the tenderness,
the affectionateness, and the firmness of Joseph. And, as his own es-
pecial gift, he has an overflowing thankfulness, an ever-burning devo-
tion, a zealous fidelity to his God, a high unshaken loyalty towards his
king, a heroic bearing in all circumstances, such as the multitude of
men see to be great, but cannot understand. Be it our blessedness, un-
less the wish be presumptuous, so to acquit ourselves in troubled times ;
cheerful amid anxieties, collected in dangers, generous towards enemie?,
patient in pain and sorrow, subdued in good fortune ! How manifold
are the ways of the Spirit, how various the graces which He imparts ; what
depth and width is there in that moral truth and virtue for Avhich we
are created ! Contrast one with another the Scripture Saints ; how
different are they, yet how alike ! hoAV fitted for their respective cir-
cumstances, yet how unearthly, how settled and composed in the faith
and fear of God ! As in the Services, so in the patterns of the Church,
God has met all our needs, all our frames of mind. " Is any afflicted ?
let him pray ; is any merry ? let him sing Psalms."* Is any in joy or
in sorrow ? there are Saints at hand to encourage and guide him. There
is Abraham for nobles. Job for men of wealth and merchandise, Moses
for patriots, Samuel for rulers, Elijah for reformers, Joseph for those
who rise into distinction ; there is Daniel for the forlorn, Jeremiah for
the persecuted, Hannah for the downcast, Ruth for the friendless, the

* James v. 13.



v.] EARLY YEARS OF DAVID. 483

Shunammite for the matron, Caleb for the soldier, Boaz for the farmer,
Mephibosheth for the subject ; but none is vouchsafed to us in more va-
ried lights, and with more abundant and more affecting lessons, whether
in his history or in his writings, than he whose eulogy is contained in
the words of the text, as cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man,
and prudent in matters, and comely in person, and favoured by Almighty
God. May we be taught, as he was, to employ the gifts, in whatever
measure given us, to God's honour and glory, and to the extension of
that true and only faith which is the salvation of the soul !



SERMON V



JEROBOAM.



1 Kings xiii. 2.



Hk cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus
saith the Lord, Behold, a child shall be bom unto the house of Dayid, Josiah
by name ; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn
incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee.

These words are parts of a narrative which we hear read once a year
in the Sunday Service, but which can scarcely be understood without
some attention to the history which precedes it. It is a prophecy against
the form of worship set up in the kingdom of Israel ; let us consider
what this kingdom and this worship were, and how this wo came to be
uttered by a prophet of God.

When Solomon fell into idolatry, he broke what may be called his
coronation oath, and at once forfeited God's favour. The essential
duty of a king of the chosen people was to act as God's representative,
to govern for Him. David was called a man after God's heart, because
he was thus faithful ; he fulfilled his trust. Solomon failed, failed in
the very one duty which, as king of Israel, he was bound to perform.

In consequence, a message came from Almighty God, revealing what
the punishment of his sin would be. He might be considered as having
forfeited his kingdom, for himself and his posterity. For David's sake,
however, this extreme sentence was not pronounced upon him. First,
since the promise had been made to David that hig son should reiga



484 JEROBOAM. IS«Mi.

after him, though that son was the very transgressor, yet he was spared
the impending evil on account of the promise. As an honour to Da-
vid, Solomon's reign closed without any open infliction of divine ven-
geance ; only with the presage of it. " Forasmuch as this is done of
thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy
servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it, for David thy
father's sake : but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son."* A still
further mitigation of punishment was granted, still for David's sake.
It had been promised David, " I will set up thy seed after thee, and I
will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever ... If he com-
mit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men ; but My mercy
shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put
away before thee."f Accordingly when Solomon had sinned, and the
kingdom was rent from him, still holy David's seed was not utterly put
away before a new king, as the family of Saul had fallen before Da-
vid ; part of the kingdom was still left to the descendants of the faithful
king. " Howbeit, I will not rend away all the kingdom ; but I will
give one tribe to thy son," Solomon's son, " for David My servanfs
sakey This one tribe was the tribe of Judah, David's own tribe ; to
which part of Benjamin was added, as being in the neighbourhood.
And this kingdom, over which David's line reigned for four hundred
vears after him, is called the kingdom of Judah, — But with this king-
dom of Judah we are not now concerned ; but with that larger portion
of the tribes, which was rent away from David's house, and forms what
is called the kingdom of Israel.

These were the circumstances under which the division of the king-
dom was made. Solomon seems to have allowed himself in tyrannical
conduct towards his subjects, as well as in idolatry. On his death the
people came to his son Rehoboam, at Shechem, and said. "Thy father
made our yoke grievous ; now therefore make thou the grievous service
of thy father and his heavy yoke which he put upon us lighter, and we
will serve thee." Rehoboam was rash enough to answer, after three
days' deliberation, "My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add
to your yoke ; my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chas-
tise you with scorpions. "I Now every one sees that Rehoboam here
acted very wrong)} aiid Solomon too, as 1 have said, had sinned griev-
ously before him. His oppression of the people was a sin ; yet, you
will observe, the p.;ople had no right to complain. They had brought
this evil on thenistlvcs; they had obstinately courted and struggled
after it. They wr Id have " a king like the nations," a despotic king;

* 1 Kingsxi. 11 '-2. t 2 Sam. vii. 12—15. t 1 Kings xii 4. 14.



v.] JEROBOAM. 485

and now they had one, they were discontented. Samuel had not only
earnestly and solemnly protested against this measure, as an offence
against their Almighty Governor, but had actually forewarned them of
the evils which despotic power would introduce among them. " He
will take your sons and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and
to be his horsemen ; he will set them to ear his ground and to reap his
harvest and to make his instruments of war. He will take your daugh-
ters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he
will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, and give
them to his servants." The Avarning ends thus: "And ye shall cry
out in that day, because of your king which ye shall have chosen you,
and the Lord will not hear you in that day."* These were Samuel's
words beforehand. Now all this had come upon them : as they had
sown, so they had reaped. And, as matters stood, their best course
would have been contentment, resignation ; it was their duty to bear the
punishment of their national self-will. But one sin was not enough for
them. They proceeded as men commonly do, to mend (as they con-
sidered) their first sin, by a fresh one ; — they rebelled against their
king. " What portion have we in David ?" they said, " neither have
we inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel, — now see
to thine own house, David. "f Ten tribes out of twelve revolted from
their king in that day. Here they were quite inexcusable. Even put-
ting it out of the question that they had brought the evil on themselves,
still, independently of this, their king's tyranny did not justify their
sudden, unhesitating, violent rebellion. He was acting against no en-
gagement or stipulation. Because their king did not do his duty to
them, this was no reason they should not do their duty to him. Say
that he was cruel and rapacious, still they might have safely trusted
the miraculous providence of God, to have restrained the king by His
prophets, and to have brought them safely through. This would have
been the way of faith ; but they took the matter into their own hands,
and got into further difficulty. And I wish you to observe, that all the
evil arose from this original fault, worked out in its consequences
through centuries, viz. their having a king at all.

So much, then, for their first sin, and their second sin. To continue
further the history of their downward course, we must look to the man
whom they made the leader of their rebellion. This was Jeroboam.

Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, had been, during Solomon's life-time,
appointed to collect the tribute from the tribe of Ephraim, the most
powerful of the ten tribes ; a situation which gave him influence and

» 1 Sam. viii. 11—18. t 1 Kings xii. 16.



486 JEROBOAM. [Semi.

authority in that j)art of the Country. The king appointed him, " see-
ing the young man that he was industrious." We are told too that he
was " a mighty man of valour."* Thus honoured by Solomon, he
abused his trust, even in the king's life-time, by rebelling against him.
"Jeroboam, Solomon's servant, even he Hft up his hand against the
king. When Solomon, in consequence, sought to kill him," he fled to
Egypt, when Shisak, the king, sheltered him. On Solomon's death he
returned to his country, and at the invitation of the revolting tribes,
headed their rebellion. " It came to pass when all Israel (i, e. the ten
tribes) heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called
him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel : there
Avas none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only."f
Now, that Jeroboam was an instrument in God's hand to chastise
Solomon's sin, is plain ; and there is no difficulty in conceiving how a
wicked man, without being any excuse to him, still may bring about
the Divine purposes. But in Jeroboam's particular case there is this
difficulty, at first sight ; that Almighty God had seemed to sanction
his act by promising him, in Solomon's life-time, the kingdom of the
ten tribes. The prophet Ahijah had met him, and delivered to him a
message from " the Lord, the God of Israel." " I will rend the king-
dom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes io ihee.'" And
it was on account of this prophecy that Jeroboam " lifted up his hand
against the king." On a little consideration, however, we shall find no
difficulty here : for though Almighty God promised him the kingdom,
he did not tell him to gain it for himself; and, if we must not do evil
that good may come, surely we may not do evil that a promise may be
fulfilled ; and to " rebel against his lord" (in the words of Scripture)
was a plain indisputable sin. God, who made the promise, could of
course fulfil it in His own time. He did not require man's crime to
bring it about. It was, of course, an insult to His holiness and power
to suppose He did. Jeroboam ought to have waited patiently God's
time ; this would have been the part of true faith. But it had always
been, as on this occasion, the sin of the Israelites, to outrun God's pro-
vidence ; and even when they chose to pursue His ends, to wish to
work them out their own way. They never would " be still and know
that He was God," wait His word and follow His guidance. Thus,
when they first took possession of the promised land, they were told to
cast the nations out, and utterly destroy all that did not leave the coun-
try. They soon became weary of this, and thought they had found
out a better way. They thought it wiser to spare their enemies, and

* 1 Kings li. 23. . t 1 Kings xii. 20.



v.] JEROBOAM. 487

form alliances with them, and put them under tribute. This brought
them first into idolatry, then into captivity. When Samuel rescued
them, and their hopes revived, their first act was to choose a king like
the nations, contrary to God's will. And Jeroboam, in this instance,
as a special emblem of the whole people in the rebellion itself, had not
patience to wait, and faith to trust God, that " what He had promised
He was able also to perform." That it was a trial to Jeroboam we
need not deny ; of course it was. He was tried and found wanting.
Had he withstood the temptation, and refrained himself till lawfully
called to reign, untold blessings might have been showered on him and
on his people, who, in the actual history, were all cut off for their sins.
He was not the first man who had thus been tried. David had been
promised Saul's kingdom, and anointed thereunto by Samuel, years
before he came into possession ; yet, though he was persecuted by Saul,
and had his life several times in his power, still he would not lift up his
hand against his king. He had the faith of his forefather Abraham,
who, though promised the land he dwelt in, wandered in it as a pilgrim,
without daring to occupy it ; wandered on with a band of trained ser-
vants at his command, who might have gained for him a territory had
he desired it, as certainly as they smote Chedorlaomer and recovered
Lot and his goods. David inherited this patient faith, and through it
"obtained the promise," and founded a throne in righteousness and
truth. Had Jeroboam followed it, he too might have been the father
of a line of kings ; he might have been the instrument and object of
God's promised favour towards the house of Joseph : satisfying, in his
own person, the prophecies which Jacob and Moses* had delivered, and
Joshua, himself an Ephraimite, had begun to fulfil, and founding a
dominion not inferior in glory to that of Judah and Jerusalem.

Jeroboam, then, is not excused, though Ahijah prophesied ; but, next,
let us inquire how did he act when at length seated on the throne ? It
is not surprising, after such a beginning, that he sinned further and
more grievously. When a man begins to do wrong, he cannot answer
for himself how far he may be carried on. He does not see before-
hand, he cannot know, where he shall find himself after the sin is com-
mitted. One false step forces him to another, for retreat is impossible.
This, which occurs every day, is instanced, first, in the history of the
whole people, and then, in the history of Jeroboam. For a while, in-
deed, he seemed to prosper. Rehoboam, Solomon's son, had brought
an extraordinary force of chosen men against him ; but Almighty God,
willing there should be no blood shed, designing to punish Solomon's

* Gen. xUi. 22—26. Dcut. xxxiii. 13—17. cf. 1 Kings xi. 38.



488 JEROBOAM. [Suiiif.-

idolatry, and intending to leave Jeroboam to himself, to work out the
fruit of his rebellion, and then to judge and smite him with His own
arm, would not allow the war. The prophet Shemaiah was sent to
Rehoboam to put an end to it, and Rehoboam obeyed.

Thus Jeroboam seemed to have every thing his own way; but soon
a difficulty arose which he had thought light of, if he thought of it at
all. The Jewish nation was not only a kingdom, but a church, a reli-
gious as well as a political body ; and Jeroboam found, before long, that
in setting up a new kingdom in Israel, he must set up a new religion
too.

It was ordered in the Law of Moses, that all the men throughout
Israel should go up to Jerusalem to worship three times a year ; but
Jerusalem was, at this time, the capital of the kingdom of Judah, the
rival kingdom ; and Jeroboam clearly saw that if his new subjects
were allowed to go up thither, they could not remain his subjects long,
but would return to their former allegiance. Here, then, a second false
step was necessary to complete the first ; for a false step that must
have been, which, as it would seem, required for its protection a viola-
tion of the Law of Moses. He, doubtless, argued that he was obliged
to do what he did, that he could not help himself. It is true ; — sin is a
hard master ; once sold over to it, we cannot break our chain ; one
evil concession requires another.

'* Jereboam said in his heart. Now shall the kingdom return to the
house of David : if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of
the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again
unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall
kill me, and go again to Rehoboam, king of Judah. Whereupon the
king took counsel."* A melancholy counsel it was : he resolved to
select places for religious worship in his own kingdom. This was
against the Law of course ; but what he did was worse than this. He
could not build a Temple like Solomon's, and yet he needed some visi-
ble sign of the presence of God. Almighty God had bid the Israel- -
ites take to themselves no sign of His presence, no likeness of Him;,
but Jeroboam thought he could not do better than set up two figures of
gold, one at each end of his country, not indeed as representations (he
would argue) but as emblems and memorials of the true God, and as
marking the established place of worship. It is probable that the age
of Solomon, a season of peace, when the arts were cultivated and an
intercourse opened with foreign nations, was a season also of a pecu-
liar religious corruption, such as had never occurred before. All

* 1 Kings xii. 26—28.



v.] JEROBOAM. 489

through their history, indeed, the IsraeUtes had opposed God's will ; but
by this time they had learned to defend their disobedience by argu-
ment, and to transgress upon a system. Jeroboam's sins, in regard to
religious worship, were not single, or inconsistent with each'other, but
depended on this principle, — that there is no need to attend to the pos-
itive laws and the outward forms and ceremonies of religion, so that
we attend to the substance. In setting up these figures of gold, it was
far from his intention to oppose the worship of the One True God, the
Maker of heaven and earth, the Saviour of Israel ; the words he used
on the occasion, and the course of the history show this. He thought
he was only altering the discipHne of the Church, as we should now
call it, and he might plausibly ask, what did that matter ? He was but
putting another emblem of God in the place of the Cherubim. He
made merely such alterations as change of circumstances and the
course of events rendered indispensable. He was in difficulties, and
had to consider, not what was best, or what he himself should choose,
had he to choose, but what was practicable.

The figure he adopted, as a memorial of Almighty God, was in the
shape of an ox or calf, the same that the Israelites had set up in the
wilderness. It is hardly known what is the meaning of the emblem,
which doubtless came from Egypt. The ox is thought to be the em-
blem of life or strength ; and, being set up as a rehgious monument,
might be intended to signify God's creative power. But however thi.?
might be, it was, at any rate, a direct and open transgression of the
second Commandment. "The king took counsel, and made two calves
of gold, and said unto the people. It is too much for you to go up to
Jerusalem ; behold thy gods, Israel, which brought thee up out of
the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put
he in Dan."

Even this open idolatrous worship, not merely tolerated, but estab-
lished, even this was not the last sin of this unhappy man, who had be-
gun a course of wickedness upon system, and then leflt it as an inheri-
tance for others more abandoned than himself to perfect. The tribe of
Levi, who were especially consecrated to religious purposes, had their
possessions not in one place, but scattered up and down the country. It
was not to be supposed that they, who executed judgment upon the sin
of the calf in the wilderness, would tamely suffer this renewal of the
ancient offence in a more heinous .shape. They refused to counte-
nance the idolatrous worship, and Jeroboam, led on by hard necessity,
cast them out of the country, got possession of their cities and lands,,
and put in priests of his own making in their stead. "Tlo made a
house of high places," and " he and his sons cast off rvites from



490 JEROBOAM. [Skrh.

executing the priest's office unto the Lord, and he ordained him priests
for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had
made ; priests of the lowest of the people which were not of the sons
of Levi."* And he changed the solemn feast days, and dared to oifer
incense, himself intruding first, for example's sake into the sacred
office.

In consequence of these impious proceedings, not only " the priests
and Levitcs, that were in all Israel," loft his kingdom and retired to Ju-
dea, but also, " after them, out of all the" other " tribes, such as set their
hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice
unto the Lord God of their fathers."

Truly this was an ill-omened commencement of his reign. He had
made it impossible for pious Israelites to remain in the country. The
irreligious alone held by him. Jeroboam ruled in a country given up,
as it seemed, to evil spirits. So true is it, in a kindred sense too that in
which the words were used by Samuel, that " rebellion is as the sin of
witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry."!

Now, then, we come to the concluding scene of this course of crime,
perpetrated by one man, — the transaction to which the text belongs.

It was on the new feast day " which he had devised of his OAvn heart,"
and at Bethel where the idol was set up. The people were collected
from all parts of the country, and the king " offered upon the altar and
burnt incense." Such was the formal inauguration of the false reli-
gion in God's own hallowed country, answering to that sacred solemnity
when'Solomon offered the prayer of dedication in the Temple. The
glory of God had come down on that chosen place in token of His fa-
vour, and now at Bethel, which He had once specially visited in an
earlier age, He suffered not the heathen act to pass without an indica-
tion of His wrath. One of His prophets was sent from Judah to at-
tend the festival ; but, as if he were entering a country infected by
the pestilence, he was bid go into no house, nor eat, nor drink while he
was in it, nay, he was not even to return to his home the same way by
which he came, as if his feet must not touch the polluted earth twice.

When the prophet came he uttered his message before the apostate
king. It was a prophecy ; a prophecy set up as a witness against the
complicated sins of the people, the destiny of that rebellious and idola-
trous kingdom stamped upon it in the day of its nativity. The man
of God addrest the altar, as not deigning to speak to Jeroboam, and
foretold its fate. He announced that, after no long time, the idola-
trous power should be destroyed, and that very altar should last long

* Kings xii. 31. 2 Chron. li. 14, 15. . t 1 Sam. iv. 23.



T] JEROBOAM. 491

enough to see its fall ; for upon it, fragrant as it now was with incense,
the impious priests should be sacrificed, and men's bones burned ; more-
over that all this should be done by a prince of the house of Judah ;



Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 54 of 76)