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Verses 1-53

Unpossessed Possessions

1 Kings 22:3

I. What is ours, and not ours? Every Christian man has large tracts of unannexed territory, unattended possibilities, unenjoyed blessings, things that are his and yet not his. How much more of God you and I have a right to than we have the possession of.

( a ) How much inward peace is ours? It is meant that there should never pass across a Christian's soul more than a ripple of agitation, which may indeed ruffle and curl the surface; but deep down there should be the tranquillity of the fathomless ocean, unbroken by any tempests, and yet not stagnant, because there is a vital current that runs through it, and every drop is being drawn upward to the surface and the sunlight. The peace of God is ours; but ah, in how sad a sense it is true that the peace of God is not ours.

( b ) What 'heights' for Ramoth means 'high places,' what heights of consecration there are which are ours according to the Divine purposes, and according to God's gift. It is meant, and it is possible and well within the reach of every Christian soul, that he or she should live day by day in the continual and utter surrender of himself or herself to the will of God. But instead of this absolute submission and completeness and joyfulness of surrender of ourselves to Him, what do we find? Reluctance to obey, regret at providences, self-dominant or struggling hard against the partial domination of the will of God in our hearts.

( c ) What noble possibilities of service, what power in the world are bestowed on Christ's people. The Divine gift to the Christian community, and yet look how, all through the ages, the Church has been beaten by the corruption of the world.

II. Our text hints for us not only the difference between possession and realization, but also our strange contentment in imperfect possession. Ahab's remonstrance with his servants seems to suggest that there were two reasons for their acquiescence in the domination of a foreign power on a bit of their soil. They had not realized that Ramoth was theirs, and they were too lazy and cowardly to go and take it. Ignorance of the fullness of the gift and slothful timidity in daring everything in the effort to make it ours explain a great deal of the present condition of Christian people.

III. My text suggests the effort that is needed to make our own ours. God does exactly in the same way with regard to a great many of His natural gifts as He does with regard to His spiritual ones. He gives them to us, but we hold them on this tenure that we put forth our best efforts to get and to keep them. His giving them does not set aside our taking.

A. Maclaren, Christ's Musts, p. 127.

References. XXII. 8. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lesson, vol. iii. p. 185. J. Keble, Sermons for Sunday After Trinity, part i, p. 363. XXII. 13, 14. Christian World Pulpit, 1891, p. 194. XXII. 19-23. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 299. XXII. 23. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 85. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 293. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 85. XXII. 32. M. Briggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 153.

The Word of the Lord

1 Kings 22:5

This was a suggestion worthy of the pious King of Judah in his best moments. What are the thoughts for ourselves?

I. The Bible is the Great Index of the Will of God. You have missed the great intention of your Bible if you have not taken it, day by day, as the guide-book of life. The Bible is altogether a practical thing. You lose yourself in it the moment you begin to theorize. It was not intended to satisfy the curiosity, but to rule conduct. It could not help having deep mysteries, but even the mysteries are always subordinate and conducive to right action. It is not, indeed, a book which draws lines, and makes out specific paths for each individual, under separate circumstances; it does better it gives great principles, which you are to expand at leisure. It gives motives which, if imbibed, will influence the whole man and his nature. It breathes a spirit by which everything is sweetened and alleviated. It warns with judgments; it comforts with promises.

II. It is the Holy Ghost which Teaches; and the result of all is one comprehensive and magnificent development of the mind of God. Were one assurance, were one undertaking, were one warning, were one principle, were one argument taken out of that system, the great portraiture would be lost. But now it is exactly what you want an everyday directory; what you are to think, what you are to feel, what you are to do, to glorify God and get to heaven. There is not a phase of life which is not represented here: there is not a doubt which is not met; there is not a question, affecting any part of man's being and responsibility which cannot answer itself and find a resting-place here.

III. Go to your Bible more in this its Oracular Character. When you open the book have a distinct question, for which you look for a distinct reply. Read consultingly. Probe its high principles and its holy motives. Attend to the little occurrences of everyday experience. Do not read a chapter, but explore a truth. Do not generalize a system, but particularize a duty.

The Things That Matter

1 Kings 22:39

I. Who can doubt that if Ahab had been asked for what he expected to be remembered after his death, it would have been for those very things that the sacred writer dismisses in this one sentence 'The ivory house that he made, the cities which he had built?' And who can doubt, too, that to the ordinary historian the reign of Ahab, which we have come to regard as infamous, would have appeared in a different light? Ahab, from one point of view, might evidently have been regarded and would have been regarded as a wise and successful ruler. If we want proof of 'the inspiration' of the Old Testament history, I do not think we can find a better one than in the fact that to the writer of the book of Kings the reign of Ahab appeared in such an entirely different light To him, we may say the great central fact of interest in the reign of Ahab is his treatment of Naboth the Jezreelite. We know the story. Naboth was a little man, perhaps, an obscure man, the owner of a vineyard, which his royal neighbour desired to annex. Naboth refused to surrender the inheritance of his fathers. Then we have the vivid picture of Ahab and Jezebel the weak husband 'letting I dare not wait upon I would'; the strong determined wife; the plot by which Naboth was betrayed and slain; the king walking in his new possession only to meet the stern form of the prophet. It is on this this great injustice, this great moral failure that the eyes of the sacred historian are centred. It stands out, this glittering injustice, above and beyond all else; the rest compared with this, mattered little.

II. We cannot recall this old story without being reminded once more how different lives may appear from what we may call the human and Divine points of view. In writing, for instance, of the times of Ahab, the writer of the book of Kings does not pause to deal with the commercial advantages arising from the marriage of Ahab and Jezebel. He is intent on what seems to him a much more important matter the moral results of their union; the social corruption resulting from contact with the impure rites of Baal and Ashtoreth; and we sometimes wonder how it would be if a prophet were to apply such tests to our own day.

III. And what is true of the age at large is true of each single life. There are three points of view from which our lives can be regarded: ( a ) There is our own estimate of ourselves. ( b ) There is the judgment of ourselves by others; and ( c ) finally there is the judgment of ourselves by God, and the life of Ahab as recorded in the book of Kings tells us this very clearly, if we only listen to the message, that when we 'sleep with our fathers' it is not by the cities we have built, or by the ivory palaces which we have made that we shall be judged at the last, but by our secret choices, by our fidelity in small things, by our hidden and obscure loyalties or disloyalties to God and man.

H. R. Gamble, Christianity and Common Life Sermons, p.l.

Human Solidarity

1 Kings 22:40

I. Put yourself back into the time of these events which the Church has put before us in the chapter from the book of Kings. And then think of it all passing away. All this conglomeration of passion and impulse apparently as if it had never been; the history of Israel gathering to a point at Ahab, and then snapping and letting him vanish as if he had never lived. Think of the hundreds and thousands who have lived and moved with all their throbbing cares and eager lives, as if all this universe was made for them and depended upon their efforts; and then think how few names, even comparatively speaking, survive. One generation passeth away and another generation cometh. Our greatest power becomes little, our greatest trouble seems light as we stand beneath the majesty of God, who sits unmoved and unchanged as new empires rise and fall before His eternal presence. This is the just and obvious thought which strikes us as we read of king succeeding king and of power and cruelty and evil buried in the silence of the grave.

II. But there are other and more solemn thoughts still, to which we should do well to turn our attention. There is no life, did we but know it, which can be said to have absolutely no bearing upon anything but itself. Mankind is a great whole, bound up in its solidarity, in its nations, its cities, its communities, its families; and on one life depends the well-being or the reverse of other lives as well. When Ahab died that was not an end of him. Ahaziah succeeded to that which Ahab had made. He succeeded to a kingdom made idolatrous, to a kingdom alienated from God, to great political mistakes, to embittered enemies and estranged friends, to the dower of a curse. He leaves the kingdom more weakened still to his successor. It is a wonderful thing this solidarity of life. God apparently so prodigal of human life, is yet so careful for the work of His hands, so sparing in His expenditure of human failures. And yet it has become almost a commonplace of the unbelieving controversialist in the case against his opponents: 'What a curious conception,' he says, 'you must have of a beneficent God, who you imagine is a Being, Who, you tell us, is perfect love, Who, you confess, has infinite forethought and prescient accuracy with which He can measure every temptation, knowing the exact force which they will exercise on man, and Who yet creates or suffers to enter the world a creature like Ahab, who, according to all known laws, is bound to go wrong, and merit the awful punishment of his wrongdoing.' God Almighty can never have before Him, we may say with reverence, a sole, an isolated individual, not an Ahab alone, nor an Ahaziah alone, but the whole race of Israel and of all the kingdoms of the world. To suppress a man may be to suppress a race. In refusing existence to one bad man He may be refusing existence to a hundred good ones.

III. 'So Ahab slept with his fathers; and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead.' Do not make a mistake, do not think that it is unimportant what we do, that we are but dolls held in the steady hands of God, who will play our parts for us whether we consciously move or not. No; we are dowered with free will, and it makes the greatest difference in the world, not only to ourselves but to those who come after us how we act. Surely we need to feel more than we do our responsibility to the nation not only in the vote which we give, or in the influence which we shed abroad or in the party principles which we follow, but in the life of the good citizen, law-abiding, reverent, dutiful, and true. Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son succeeded him; but both Ahab and Ahaziah went to swell, if it were only with tiny drops, the stream of national life to which they belonged.

W. C. E. Newbolt, Words of Exhortation, p. 215.

Reference. XXII. 48. T. Spurgeon, Down to the Sea, p. 204.

The Contagion of Sin

1 Kings 22:52

We are studying once more the history of a fall; we are studying one of those failures of God's agents which are histories always full of warning and full of disappointments. And it is not without a sad significance that we see here, as elsewhere, that we will note it in passing the father is associated, in the record of his son's failure.

I. Why, we may reverently ask, is Jeroboam dowered with this heritage of doom? Why has he been placed there before others as the prominent agent in a national disgrace 'who made Israel to sin'? Because he made the calf in Bethel and the calf in Dan, and said, 'Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt'. We have surely here God's eternal disapproval, cut in deep letters, of the doctrine known as expediency. It is a common opinion that the precept 'Let us do evil that good may come' is the peculiar property of a certain religious order not unnaturally distrusted and feared. There cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose this. It is ingrained in the very texture of human nature. It was so here. Jeroboam was definitely commissioned to sever the ten tribes from Rehoboam's influence. If he was to do this completely, he must sever utterly, and once for all, that centripetal force which would draw these tribes constantly back to Jerusalem as the religious centre of the whole nation with its tradition, its prestige, its opportunities for a political propaganda. Antecedently it was not desirable to multiply centres of devotion; politically there was nothing else to be done. And so principle bows down its head before expediency. Jeroboam's calves of gold were put up, no doubt with the best political motives, and with a minimum of religious rancour, to represent in the least offensive way a religious use whose exercise had become dangerous. But the first step in expediency was the very spot over which God raised the epitaph of his far-reaching sin, 'Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin' the man who sacrificed principle to expediency.

II. It has been pointed out that there are three stages of decline in the downward career of the wicked with regard to sin against truth. First the obstinate setting of self against it, 'they received not the love of the truth'. This by a wilful act of self. Then the judicial infatuation which overtakes the sinner at a certain point. 'For this point God shall send them strong delusion,' followed by the final punishment which overtakes those who 'believe in the truth but have pleasure in unrighteousness'. Trifling with truth is a serious matter, wherever we find it. The worship of God enshrined in the second commandment was not a positive order merely, which Jeroboam might obey or disobey as he liked with impunity. It rested on the fundamental needs of man and the axioms of religious appreciation of God. Truth is not a series of propositions which we keep in a book and polemically defend in argument. Truth is a spiritual force which penetrates every corner of our religious life. 'Who made Israel to sin.' In the end after all, it is God's verdict against the underlying selfishness of sin. It is a sad end no doubt to a life meant only to be glorious, and to snatch the good out of evil circumstances, but it is the end which awaits all selfish working, all tampering with the commission which God entrusts to us.

W. C. E. Newbolt, Words of Exhortation, p. 199.

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