Previous: II Samuel Up: The Tree of Life Next: II Kings

The Tree of Life:

I Kings

The Higher Law

Chapter 1. "Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat." The evening and the morning mark the time of day. The close of David’s life and the beginning of Solomon’s reign feature a memorable day in the soul’s history. The grip of the cold hand of death on David does not intimate indifference to the law of love due to the outgrowth of self-merit. David’s comforter was Abishag, of the tribe of Issachar (meaning "hire, recompense"). But "the king knew her not." The love of the neighbor and the love of approbation are not complementary. Self-merit bears a very close relationship to family pride. Therefore, David tacitly approved Adonijah’s self-exaltation in having himself proclaimed king in his stead. Nathan, the prophet, however, counseled Bathsheba to remind David of his oath that Solomon should be his successor. Nathan seconded her petition, and David was persuaded to fulfill his vow. Therefore Solomon was anointed and proclaimed king. The picture discloses the manner in which the principle, long upheld in theory, as the highest possible for man to live by, is at last enshrined in the heart to fashion character in keeping with "the Lamb’s book of life" (Revelation 20:15). The higher law of loving others more than ourselves is enthroned within, despite the insidious appeal of self-interest, through confirmation from the spirit of childhood within (Bathsheba), the Word of God (Nathan), the experience of the Lord’s saving grace (Zadok), and the testimony of the lives of the best of men (Benaiah, and the Cherethites and Pelethites, the body guard of both David and Solomon).

For life, with all it yields of joy and woe,
And hope, and fear. . . .
Is just our chance o’ the prize of learning love,
How love might be, hath been indeed, and is;
And that we hold thenceforth to the uttermost
Such prize despite the envy of the world,
And, having gained truth, keep truth: that is all.

– Browning, "A Death in the Desert"

2. From childhood we have imbibed the thought that it was noble to give in, or give up, for the good of others. We were also familiar with the great sacrifice made by our parents for our good, although we were quite incapable of appreciating its priceless value. All this secretly makes it possible for us to form a slight conception of the Lord’s love in "ministering to all, and giving his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Our experience in the effort to be neighborly reasserts the importance of keeping the commandments (David’s charge to Solomon), in a spirit free from hypocrisy (Joab must die for his deceitfulness), and bounteously shared with the simple good (the sons of Barzillai shall feed at Solomon’s table). David also charged the king that Shimei should die for having cursed "the Lord’s anointed." The supremacy of the love of others more than self to be pure should uphold the rule of equal consideration for others against all criticism. The sacrifice of life for one’s country is not pure unless devoid of hatred, etc. Therefore, Solomon, in the first place, got rid of Adonijah, because he asked to have Abishag to wife. Self-exaltation and the love of approbation are antonyms of self-sacrifice. They are altogether incompatible with the rule of selflessness. In the second place, Solomon deposed Abiathar, the priest who forsook David for Adonijah. The church that yields to the pressure of worldly interests denies in practice the rule of a self-sacrificing love. In the third place, Solomon disposed of Joab, captain of David’s host. The spirit of self-immolation uncovers deceitfulness in our life of religion, which must be eliminated that the love of God in Christ may reign within. And, lastly, Solomon took up the case of Shimei. He was of the house of Saul, and represents the traditionalists, who take violent exception to a legitimate interpretation of the spirit of the law contrary to their orthodox point of view. They "make the law of God of none effect by their traditions" (Matthew 15:6). The traditionalist may be of service in questioning or in supporting matters of conscience (David’s throne), but is proscribed when antagonistic to the truth perceived from the Lord (Solomon’s throne). Literalism survives so long as it confirms truth that is above reason, but is outlawed when opposed to it. "The truth of love" is unassailable. As a subject of Solomon Shimei was safe so long as he lived in Jerusalem, but when he broke "the oath of the Lord," and left Jerusalem on his ass to bring back his servants from Philistia, he brought upon himself the death penalty. They who are in the love of God, "the celestial, never reason about faith and its truths, but being in the perception of truth, from good, they say that it is so. The spiritual speak and reason about the truths of faith, because they are in the conscience of good, from truth" (Arcana Coelestia #2708). And so David’s reign had perpetual warfare. Solomon’s reign was characterized by peace. His kingdom was established after the death of Shimei. So far as God’s love is a part of our being we perceive the truth without argument. "Let your communications be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil" (Matthew 5:37).

The Power of Perception

3. What follows illustrates the nature of perception as the inmost and surest rule of conduct. Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter to Jerusalem while building "his house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of the city." The love of God awakens an interest in knowing everything that has any bearing upon the building of character, and the church, and the defense of civilization. Neither the people nor the king were right with God. They worshipped in high places. We are just becoming alive to the unduly high opinion we have of ourselves and our work. The law to love others more than ourselves already begins to assume a new and more portentous meaning. To love others as ourselves requires the renunciation of evils affecting our external relationships with them. While to love them more than ourselves requires the abandonment of evils known only to ourselves and the Lord. It means giving up our lives—our pet love of self and the world—for the love of God, which is the love of everyone, and most of all those in greatest need. To see where this leads, or applies, requires more than intelligence or knowledge. As in a dream we see that nothing short of a wise and understanding heart will meet the situation. To ask this in faith is but to receive it, and know it through practice. Two harlots sought judgment of the king. Like the two thieves on Calvary the two harlots represent humanity up for judgment before the Lord. In the case of the harlots each bore a son. That son represents the truth in regard to the adulterous state of the heart, intermingling the worship of God with the worship of self. Some smother the truth about themselves in time of trial (nighttime), protesting under judgment that theirs is a living faith in God. "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord," however, "shall enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Others are prepared to sacrifice everything to preserve alive the truth about themselves, confessing under judgment that the love of self had robbed them of it. Their hearts are broken when they see the dreadful consequences of their thoughtlessness. The king brings out the meaning of the law. The love of God in Christ reveals the truth without argument.

4. Solomon’s government was fully organized. Priests, princes, and officers administered the law in church and state. The boundaries of the dominion were far reaching, and peace and prosperity reigned throughout the land. The provisioning of the people was ample. The wisdom of Solomon spread abroad to the ends of the earth. To an expectant and repentant world nothing is more compelling and convictive than the simple words of wisdom that show definitely and unquestionably what it is that keeps the nations and men apart, and show further how the barriers can be removed to make this earth God’s home for everybody.

It Visualizes a New Civilization

5. The building of the temple—the house of God—symbolizes the reconstruction of civilization. "The real worship of the Lord consists in performing uses" (Arcana Coelestia #7038), with the thought of others constantly in the foreground, and self receding more and more into the background. The nations today are highly organized for war, or at war, and exemplify exceptional cooperation under the law of necessity. Every man must stake his life and do his bit to the limit of his capability. Voluntary cooperation for the commonweal bears no comparison. And why? Because each individual seeks his own good first, and the good of others second, or last, to the serious disorganization of society, and the exclusion of millions from the right to "perform uses," and earn a living. The situation, however, is not hopeless. Far from it. There are men and women today who are busy assembling the materials for a temple in which God can dwell among men. Hiram, king of Tyre, "was ever a lover of David," and sent servants to know what he could do for Solomon. "Tyre signifies the interior knowledges of good and truth; thus those who are in them" (Arcana Coelestia #3448). Despite appearances to the contrary we are learning lessons from the world’s wars. And from the unseen conflicts in private and public life and the heartaches for the sufferings of the unfortunate, there come countless efforts to give them a square deal. And beneath all, or above all, the light that shines within through the cultivation of a closer friendship with the Lord, intensifies the shadows cast in the background by our own weaknesses and transgressions. Growing convictions on these different planes of life for proving more worthy of our countless blessings serve in the living temple, as did the cedar in Solomon’s temple. And the stones that give stability and permanence to the building signify the fundamental facts of life, and first of all, the fact of Christ, the chief cornerstone of the building, the stone which the builders in the past rejected (Matthew 21:42). The value of all these facts, however, depends upon what they mean to us, or teach us. Our interpretation of them has to be freed from fancy or invention. The stones were made ready beforehand, so that no tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built. God gives us to see the bearing of all facts on the future growth of civilization, when we humble ourselves before Him. The self-sacrificing spirit back of the effort to establish social justice in the world puts life into our convictions, our interpretation of history and revelation, and our progressive work. Solomon was the heart and soul of the work of building the temple, the house of God. The living temple is conceived in war, but constructed in peace, as and when the ideal is actualized bit by bit.

6. The pattern and furnishing of the temple were the same as those of the tabernacle. The temple was built on a larger scale, and was more elaborate and ornate in its parts. The tabernacle is a symbol of the simple worship and life of childhood, and the temple of the more complex civilization of the manhood of the individual and the coming race.

It Forms a Sure Judgment of Evils Within

7. Solomon also built his own house, with its porches, one of which was the throne room, and another a house for Pharaoh’s daughter. The king’s house had windows in three rows, and light against light in three ranks. This is significant of the means provided for our judgment in the regenerate life. We have the light of knowledge, the light of intelligence, and the light of wisdom. "There are three degrees of altitude— natural, spiritual and celestial—in every man from his birth" (Divine Love and Wisdom #236). Light flows into man by these degrees. He can think as angels think, but is not elevated into the higher planes of living unless his love is freed from everything contrary to the light. Only when "love is purified by wisdom does it become spiritual and celestial" (Divine Love and Wisdom #422). From the love of wisdom man comes to know the evils that are in the flesh. There is no evil on the heavenly side of his nature. All evil is on the ground floor, or at the outer entrance to the soul. The work of judgment is on the same level. And the knowledge of the letter of the Word from which the doctrine of life is drawn to form the judgments is likewise on the same level. The house of Solomon’s wife, the daughter of Pharaoh, and the throne room were on the street level (see Divine Providence #100–128). Great importance is laid upon the outer and lower parts of the temple. Hiram cast two pillars of brass, a molten sea, bases, lavers and numerous vessels for the house of God. Constructive work in fashioning us as temples of the Lord goes on through constant trial. This Hiram came from Tyre, but he was "a widow’s son of the tribe of Naphtali." Naphtali means "strugglings." As we cease to do evil, we learn to do well. Again, the temple is conceived in war, but constructed in peace after war.

It Is the Best Help in Worship and Prayer

8. Now follows the dedication of the temple— the consecration of our lives to the service of the Lord. The central feature of the ceremony is the placing of the ark of the covenant in the oracle of the house, the most holy place, under the wings of the cherubim, "under the shadow of the Almighty." The Lord does not impose upon us a heavier burden than we are able to bear (John 16:12). The effort to do right as God gives us to know it may never be relaxed. The staves in the ark, visible in the holy place before the oracle, may not be taken from it (Exodus 25:15). Our ruling motive to keep the new commandment to love others as the Lord loved us means giving up the self-will to do the Divine will in all things. The temple is king Solomon’s temple, not David’s temple. The law to love our neighbor more than ourselves includes the law to love them as ourselves. We need to aim at keeping the higher law all the time to maintain an everlastingly progressive life. Our reach should ever exceed our grasp. "Be ye therefore perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Solomon blessed the Lord for fulfilling the promise made to David in the erection of the temple. He prayed that the further promise of an unbroken succession on the throne of David might also be fulfilled. The Lord Jesus Christ, born in the house of David, came as the consummation of all prophecy, to overcome all evil, to show us the way of the cross, invoking prayer at every step. The seven prayers that follow are an invaluable help to the builders.

The effort to consider others first, and self last, brings into the light many ugly feelings and thoughts. "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Psalm 119:18). We capitulate again and again. "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive against me," for Thou art my salvation (Psalm 35:1). We are headstrong, and closed to advice from within, or without. "Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end" (Psalm 119:3). We are sick at heart, or plagued with lust, or passion. "Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight" (Psalm 119:77). We wander into a far country. "I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me" (Psalm 119:19). We sometimes feel hopeless about the life of religion. "Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live; and let me not be ashamed of my hope" (Psalm 119:116). Last of all, we have become addicted to the practice of self-justification to conceal our failures and mistakes. "I have gone astray like a lost sheep: seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments" (Psalm 119:176). Our prayers for light and strength never cease. "And when thou hearest in heaven, thy dwelling place, forgive." We know we are forgiven, as we forgive, and become different— more Christlike.

9. The temple specifically presents God’s part, and the king’s house man’s part, in working out a new order of things. There shall never fail a man upon the throne of David. The restoration of society is assured through the predominance of the love of God in Christ among men. It is unthinkable that the children of men will deliberately repudiate their responsibility to God, and leave the social order to become a scrap heap. The new order is just the working out in detail of the content of the joys of childhood of the race and the individual. It took twenty years to build Solomon’s temple and house. In remodeling character, separating the good from the evil, the knowledge of the spiritual content of the Word is invaluable. Hiram, king of Tyre, contributed cedar wood and gold, symbols of spiritual knowledge and the good of it as the rule of life. This is abstract and not experiential knowledge. Hiram was not interested in the twenty cities in Galilee which Solomon offered him. He was content to give of his gold without thought of remuneration. And Solomon used it freely to establish his kingdom, making his enemies subservient to him, and his subjects men of war and leaders in the civil service.

It Unfolds the Love of God in Christ

10. "The good of love reigns in the Celestial Heaven" (Arcana Coelestia #9687). What is this good of love? None other than the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Nothing short of this motive is adequate to the salvation of the race. How good that love is can be gauged only through experience actuated by the same motive. The world hears of it, and many in a Gentile state of mind, unsophisticated and unprejudiced, are disposed to seriously consider Christianity for a solution of their pressing problems. "The Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, and came to prove him with hard questions." And, when she "had seen all Solomon’s wisdom," she concluded that his "wisdom and prosperity exceeded the fame" reported to her. Even so, every open-hearted enquirer may see "the good of love" with its illimitable possibilities in theory. The Queen of Sheba acknowledged what king Solomon’s wisdom meant to her by her present of gold and spices and precious stones. Gold is the symbol of "the good of wisdom and love" (Arcana Coelestia #1552) as a rule of life. "Spices, because sweet-scented, signify truths from that good" (Arcana Coelestia #5621). And stones signify the precious foundation truths of Christianity. The names of the Apostles were in the foundation stones of the Holy City. The representation of Solomon—the higher law of sacrificial love— accounts for the prevalence of gold in his time, and of peace too. Following the vision of the "good of love" comes the vision of the way to gain it. In the picture, that is by ascending the steps to Solomon’s throne. The six steps conceal the thought of the struggle in adjudging every evil hostile to the Christian life. We reach the judgment seat itself when we "lay in dust, life’s glory dead," and take up life eternal. The two lions standing beside "the hands on the seat," and the twelve lions on the steps represent the power in the truths by which we fight and conquer our self-will. And the throne of ivory overlaid with gold is the emblem of this supreme court of justice ruled by the letter of the law (the ivory tooth for defense), with the redemptive spirit of love above it, or within it. In his three temptations in the wilderness, representing all temptations, the Lord repelled the devil with the words "It is written" (Matthew 4:1–11). And in the promise to those of the seventh church in Asia, He says, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Revelation 3:21).

And It Unmasks Evil in the Inner Life

11. But Solomon had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines, and sacrificed unto their gods. The heart that loves others more than self finds good in every religion, and also in every cult. Or, we may think of these religions and cults in ourselves individually. Every one of us has quite a pack of them. "Religion is of the life." We are all wedded to numerous ideas about life, some good, some not so good, and some evil, which, however, we regard as good. As for cults, we are easily carried away by many ideas that are eccentric, or unpractical, good, bad and indifferent. We worship them all while under the spell of them, and are misled by quite a number of them. They must therefore be brought under judgment. In other words we now reach the point where we analyze our feelings and our thoughts separately, and in their interplay, in every issue that has any bearing upon our lives. The kingdom will presently be divided, and we must bear in mind the principle that "all the kings of Judah and of Israel, of whatever character, represent the Lord’s kingly function" (Arcana Coelestia #1409). This is somewhat difficult to accept, because most of the kings of Judah, and all of the kings of Israel, were evil kings. How could they represent the Lord’s kingly function? Because the kings represented the evils under judgment in the people (Doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures #35). Like people, like king. The evil is thus brought plainly before our consciousness to be analyzed and removed from the mind or the heart. The king represents the truth that condemns, or acquits. He does not act that part, but represents it, as will appear in the sequel. And now there arose two enemies who oppose the judgment—Edom and Syria. Edom represents "those who turn aside from good by utterly despising truth" (Arcana Coelestia #3322). And Syria represents self—justifications, or excuses, for indulging evil. The vision becomes a part of our lives, a belief destined to revolutionize them. Solomon died, and was buried in the city of David.

12. We have seen the vision of the selfless life, but are not prepared to champion it publicly even in theory. To do so asks altogether too much of us. The people pled with Rehoboam to be more lenient with them. Contrariwise, he determined to make life still harder for them. Life becomes successively more strenuous as we advance into the light of life. Rehoboam thought to force unity, but was advised to concede the right of secession. Head and heart must undergo judgment separately. So Rehoboam ruled Judah in Jerusalem, and Jeroboam "built Shechem in mount Ephraim," and placed golden calves in Bethel and Dan to make the separation complete. The head is turned by the worship of the world. We are conscious of the reversion of our thinking worldward, and know not how to alter it. We must live in the world as it is. We are not willing to be ostracized, or thought of as peculiar, or foolish. We love money and popularity, and are not ashamed to admit it. At the same time we know that our thoughts are not quite right, and await development of the problem with interest.

The Love of Gain

13. King Jeroboam represents the state of the people in natural good devoid of spirituality. They do that which is good, but for the sake of gain. "The word of the Lord from Jerusalem" condemns this form of the worship of mammon, and prophesies a day of judgment. Everyone knows that "it profiteth a man nothing if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul" (Matthew 16:26). The attempt to silence conscience renders him powerless to do good. The profit motive vitiates the good we do. Jeroboam’s arm dried up when he called for the death of the prophet. Repentance restores the lost power. But he who has seen and condemned the profit motive at work in himself must renounce it altogether. The prophet must not eat or drink at the king’s table, and he must return to Jerusalem another way. What followed shows the effect of a relapse. The persuasive influence of culture and refinement and the blessings of wealth perverts the word of God to approve of our abandonment to them for selfish advantage. The appeal of the false prophet from Bethel persuaded the prophet from Jerusalem to share his table with him, which meant death. Mammon worship destroys the worship of God. But note, the power to will and our reason still exist, although they are for the time being wholly inoperative. The lion and the ass stand by the carcass. "Evil can be confirmed as easily as good. Everyone who has any thought from interior understanding can see that the power to will and the power to understand are not from man, but are from Him who possesses Power itself, that is, Power in its essence. The Lord preserves these two faculties in man (freedom and reason) unharmed and as sacred in the whole course of his Divine Providence" (Divine Providence #87, 88, 96). The carcasses of both prophets were buried side by side in Bethel. Failure to live in the light is not final, but ought to teach us a very precious lesson.

14. At times our troubles due to mammon worship—the worship of the golden calf—make cowards of us. We complain about our lot in life: we are unjustly afflicted. We pray to the Father of mercies for immediate and unconditional relief. This weak state of mind is pictured in Jeroboam’s concern for his sick son, Abijah, whose name means "Jehovah is my father." We stand to lose our faith in the Fatherhood of God when we cry for mercy, and receive no answer. The church is at fault. She has misrepresented the truth by teaching her people "to approach the Father immediately and pray to him to have compassion for the sake of the Son" (Apocalypse Explained #114). Wherein lies the fallacy? Jeroboam’s wife disguised seeks the prophet’s judgment. The prophet himself cannot see the truth without enlightenment. The open Word, however, discloses the unwelcome truth that there is no complete relief from our troubles until we have reached bottom, have met and overcome all the evil in them for us. "No one enters heaven by mercy apart from means" (Heaven and Hell #521). "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. No man cometh to the Father but by me" (Matthew 11:27, John 14:6). And that means but by the way of the cross. The child Abijah shall die. Our faith is misplaced because the heart is unsound. "Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord." The people worshipped in high places. When self-conceit runs strong, our thinking cannot be sane, or normal. Yea, further, the teachings of religion are sacrificed for worldly wisdom. Shishak despoiled the temple in Jerusalem.

Head and Heart at Variance

15. There was almost constant warfare between the kings of Judah and the kings of Israel. So long as neither the head nor the heart is right with God the conflict continues. Life’s trials bring the worst in us to the surface, and also the best. The conflict between the head and the heart is all for the best. Good impulses check ungenerous thoughts. Yet again, resentment interferes with cooperation. Baasha built Ramah ("a height") to control the highway to Jerusalem. Asa procured help from Syria. Reason contends for the futility of war. The heart needs correction as well as the head. Asa in his latter years was diseased in his feet. Life is not what it ought to be. Thus ended the first dynasty of the kings of Israel. Several dynasties followed, while there was only one dynasty in Judah. Our point of view in religion may vary, will vary, from time to time. The love of the Lord may be weaker or stronger betimes, but may never change. That is the soul’s life: the essential saving element. The transactions of the kings are all carefully recorded. We make our daily record. The thoughts we cherish go to form character. None of them is ever lost.

16. There now follows a long spell of analyzing our thoughts—thoughts seen to be pernicious in an augmented degree as they are brought into the light. The voice of the prophet—the voice of conscience—therefore, becomes more articulate and effective. Unclean thoughts and false suppositions come under special condemnation. "Him that dieth of Baasha in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth of his in the fields shall the fowls of the air eat." Wrong thoughts originate from wrong feelings, and we generally recognize, though dimly at first, the wrong feelings in the background. The synchronism of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah is referred to constantly in the text. But when the kings of Israel are particularized it centers attention upon our thoughts. And when the kings of Judah hold the field, our feelings are under special judgment. Our thoughts and feelings are only separable by concentration of the mind on the one or the other. We touch the feelings indirectly when at work upon our thoughts, and directly affect our thinking when rectifying our emotions. At present a special line of thought is under judgment, and the iniquity of it appears in a new and very distressing form. "Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him." He married Jezebel, and reared up an altar for Baal, in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. Baal means "master," and represents the particular form of worldliness that is the owner and possessor of our souls. We have discovered the specific form of mammon worship that controls our thinking.

17. The Word through conscience tells us that this closes the mind to instruction from heaven. "There shall be no dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." We are not open to correction even from God. "Those who have confirmed themselves in favor of human prudence in whatever they see, hear, or read, notice nothing else; nor can they, because they receive nothing from Heaven" (Divine Providence #235). That is the first conviction. Obstinacy removes conscience still farther from the center of things. Conscience is still alive, as also a real interest in the truth, and a living faith in God (the widow of Sarepta and her son). Conscience needs support. Does the truth uphold it? Have we the courage to face what it requires of us? Is conscience merciful? The meal and the oil will not fail, when the care of the prophet is a first consideration. But if conscience is neglected, faith dies. The reproach falls upon the spoken Word. "Art thou come to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" To choose good is life, to choose evil is death. At all times, however, "whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). Elijah’s miracle demonstrates the power of the Word to revive faith in answer to earnest affirmative prayer.

For God, or Mammon?

18. "How long halt ye between two opinions"— the worship of God, or the worship of Baal? The young ox chosen for sacrifice is the embodiment of the spirit of youth patiently but eagerly awaiting the word to start team work in the world. But to what end, or in whose service? "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God." The fire of untiring love burns only in good done without thought of reward. Service for gain kindles a passion that becomes more exacting and unsatisfying the freer the rein given to it. Baal’s prophets must be slain, to the last one of them. The last selfish thought of what is coming to us for any good we are able to do in the world must perish. Then the windows of heaven will be opened to pour out greater blessings than we can use.

19. Elijah, however, has to settle with Jezebel for the death of Baal’s prophets. She represents the love of the old order that resents criticism, and strikes back. We have not reached the last ditch yet. The cause of religion is still cherished, though we are sorely tempted to give it up. If conscience goes, however, what will become of us, or the world? Elijah is jealous for the Lord God of hosts. The Lord shows Elijah that He is not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. The Lord is not in the heartrending spirit of opposition to the truth, or in the violent disturbance of our feelings, or in the subsequent outburst of passion. Beneath and within all is a still small voice pleading for a hearing. We are not what we might be, and can be. In expostulation the prophet insisted that the voice of truth will die with him! Quite otherwise! Though conscience may be speechless for a time, the day will arrive when it will become strong enough to assert itself. The public conscience awaits the growth of the private conscience to make itself articulate. The appeal to reason ought to carry conviction further (Hazael). Failing that, the enforcement of the laws of charity should be sufficient (Jehu). Should that fail too, assuredly the voice of charity itself cannot fail (Elisha). That is the voice of the Savior Himself.

20. We are all at times sorely tried by the idea of our own importance, the conceit of our own intelligence. "My power, and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:16). The king of Syria claims to take possession of everything belonging to the sons of Israel. The king of Israel said, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself, as he that putteth it off." The Syrians were drunk. Self conceit is an insane state of mind, readily recognizable, especially in others. The issue is fought out on the inner and outer planes of life. Israel scored a victory in the mountains and on the plains. But singularly enough, when the enemy plays the role of a friend in need, we recognize him as "our brother" and take him in, or rather, we ourselves are taken in. The prophet by parable and self-humiliation predicted the death of Ahab, and the captivity of Israel.

"Seek First the Kingdom of God"

21. The manner of Ahab’s death was determined by his treatment of Naboth. Ahab could not have Naboth’s vineyard adjoining his palace in Jezreel for a garden of herbs. It is contrary to order to degrade the spiritual life to serve the civil and moral life. The Lord speaks of Himself as the true vine, and his disciples as the branches. The image is used to portray neighborly love which we have from the Lord— justice, mercy, sincerity, etc. To turn a vineyard into a vegetable garden images the use of sincerity, for example, to gain prestige in public life. "Honesty is the best policy," and so forth. The spiritual life thus debased generates sorrow (fasting), misrepresentation of the truth (blasphemy), and finally, total rejection of the spiritual life. Naboth means "fruits," the fruits of the vineyard, the inheritance of his fathers. The word of the Lord by Elijah pronounced judgment on Ahab and Jezebel for their crime. Ahab’s penance only deferred the punishment, which, for us, means the time when we have to face the consequences in ourselves.

22. Headstrong we get ourselves into a mess. Ramoth Gilead was in the hands of the enemy. Headstrong we are determined to clear up the mess by making things worse. That is God’s word to us! The advice of the four hundred prophets to Ahab! Our better part, the heart, casts a doubt on the plan, and asks for a further interpretation of the Word. Micaiah, a true prophet, at first favored the plan, then saw clearly its unwisdom. Ahab would fall in the battle. A lying spirit would convince Ahab to the contrary. Headstrong we are bound to carry out our plan. It is God’s plan! The heart is not in it. Jehoshaphat, undisguised, cried out when attacked by the Syrians. The head is convinced that its solution to the problem is infallible. No one can expose the imposture, or self-deception, although it is plain to any impartial combatant. A stray shaft from a bow, drawn "in his simplicity," went direct to the weak spot "between the joints in the harness," and ended the tragedy. We plan for others, when in reality we are planning for ourselves. The consequences are inescapable. It is terribly humiliating. We have seen it all; we have learned a lesson. We know now from experience that "those are in their own prudence who corroborate appearances in themselves and make them truths, especially the appearance that one’s own prudence is everything, and the Divine Providence nothing, unless something universal; and this is impossible without the particulars that constitute it." "So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead." The heart is enriched by the experience. Jehoshaphat did "that which was right in the eyes of the Lord: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places." There is still much hidden from us through our own conceits that has to be brought into the light, and rectified, before we have won our freedom.


Previous: II Samuel Up: The Tree of Life Next: II Kings