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Where union is not strength

May 1998 | by Paul Brown

A notable incident took place during the reign of Amaziah, King of Judah. We read about it in 2 Chronicles 25:5-13. After Amaziah had established himself on the throne, he determined to fight the Edomites. He counted his men of war, but they seemed few in number. Accordingly, ‘he also hired one hundred thousand mighty men of valour from Israel’, that is, soldiers from the northern kingdom. In many ways this was a natural thing for him to do. In spite of dissension between Israel and Judah, Edom was still a common enemy. Israel and Judah were still in some senses one nation, the covenant people of God. They all professed belief in Jehovah. But though it seemed the obvious thing to do, a man of God came to Amaziah and warned him, ‘O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you; for the Lord is not with Israel, not with any of the children of Ephraim.’

Why had the Lord withdrawn his presence from Israel? Because of its idolatry. When Jeroboam rebelled against Rehoboam and became king in the north, he was soon faced with a problem. The temple of Jehovah was in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom, Judah. Each year the people went there for various feasts. If this continued, his subjects might return in loyalty to their former king, Rehoboam. So, to prevent this, he established images at Bethel and Dan. Jehovah was still acknowledged and worshipped in name, but in reality heathen and idolatrous elements had been added to his worship. Jeroboam also appointed his own priests, ‘from every class of the people, who were not of the sons of Levi’ (1 Kings 12:31). He ordained feasts of his own devising, and offered sacrifices and burnt incense himself, although this was the sole province of the Levites. As time went on, things in the northern kingdom degenerated further under kings like Ahab. God was certainly not with Israel, and Judah was not to enter into alliances with it.

Faith not numbers

Now, faith was needed to see that victory in the battle would not be obtained by great numbers of troops, but by divine blessing. If Amaziah wants to go out with the Israelite mercenaries, says 2 Chronicles 25:8, well and good. Let him prepare for the battle and go. But if he does, God will make him fall before the enemy; for ‘God has power to help — or to cast down.’ It needed real faith to appreciate this for, humanly speaking, Judah was short of trained soldiers; there was no question about that. Yet the prophet said that if they went with their forces swollen by thousands of Israelite recruits, God would make them fall before the enemy. Yet if they went with only the small army of Judah, it was plainly implied, God would give them the victory!

Counting the cost

However, obedience to God had its cost, and this clearly worried Amaziah. Obviously, he wanted God’s blessing upon his campaign. But the first question that came to his mind after hearing the prophet’s warning was: ‘What shall we do about the hundred talents, which I have given to the troops of Israel?’ He was troubled that to obey the Lord meant losing one hundred talents of silver! This money had already been paid for the hire of the soldiers and it was quite certain that the Israelites would never give it back. Obedience would inevitably involve sacrificing that money but, as the man of God replied, ‘The Lord is able to give you much more than this.’

Obeying God was costly, secondly, because it meant facing the fury of the Israelites. ‘Amaziah discharged the troops that had come to him from Ephraim, to go back home. Therefore their anger was greatly aroused against Judah, and they returned home in great anger’ (2 Chronicles 25:10). This is hardly surprising. It must have seemed a gross insult to the Israelites to be sent back without going into battle. How more greatly enraged they must have felt when they learned the reason for being sent back: ‘Who are these people of Judah’, they must have thought, ‘to say that God is not with us? What right have they to judge us?’

Nor was this all. The disgruntled men of Israel made it even worse. ‘But as for the soldiers of the army which Amaziah had discharged, so that they would not go with him to battle, they raided the cities of Judah from Samaria to Beth-horon, and killed three thousand in them and took much spoil’ (2 Chronicles 25:13). The Israelites were so provoked that they ransacked a number of towns on the northern border of Judah, killing a multitude of innocents and treating their possessions as so much spoil.

Today’s battle

Christians are soldiers in the armies of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). They face the enemies of pluralism, ecumenism, secularism and many other things that threaten to engulf the souls of men. The power of the devil is behind all these forces. The great cry of the hour is that professing Christians must unite to face their foes, regardless of their different traditions. They must forget their differences. They must put away divisions inherited from the past, and get together to face the common enemy.

But the Word of God only permits such union on the basis of biblical truth. The Israelites of Amaziah’s day were outwardly the people of God. They also faced a deadly common foe. But they had seriously corrupted the worship of God, and Judah was not allowed to join with them in common cause. God’s people are never permitted to unite with those from whom God has departed, whoever those potential allies might be and whatever strengths they may appear to have.

Are there those today who can fairly be compared with the Israelites of long ago? People who, while professing to worship God and believe in his Son, have corrupted Christianity? The answer is a tragic affirmative. There are many who call themselves Christians, but who deny the very fundamentals of the faith. They deny the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures; the historic fall of man; the virgin birth of Jesus Christ; his penal and substitutionary death; his personal return. They reject the biblical teaching on regeneration and conversion; they dismiss thoughts of final judgement, heaven and hell. Vast numbers of so-called Christian people and ministers deny the vitals of the faith. They advocate regeneration by baptism, expect to see atheists in heaven. They believe that Hindus and Moslems can worship the one true God without having Christ as their Mediator. Now, the Lord is not with those people. Therefore believers must not go with them to the battle.

Compromise

In spite of this, there are many genuine believers who do compromise in this way. Why do they do so? Part of the answer may be the perceived cost to professing Christians of a faithful separation from those who (implicitly or explicitly) deny the truth. This cost includes enduring the anger of those who call themselves Christians but are not. There are few worse epithets than intolerant bigot, but those who seek to be faithful to Scripture and reject doubtful alliances must be prepared to suffer such accusations. More than this, the incensed Israelites actually harmed the people of Judah. Those who steer clear of the ecumenical movement and other compromising relationships will be subjected not only to abuse, but also to inconveniences and hindrances, even from professing Christian people. Yet, whatever the cost, ‘God has power to help’ and ‘The Lord is able to give you much more than this.’ The question is, and must always be, what does God require? What is his will? For it is only as we are obedient to him that we can expect the divine blessing to rest upon us and our endeavours.

Comfort

There are battles, to be sure. But there are comforts too, including the possibility of a different kind of union. Union can give great strength, where union is in the true gospel. Such union is to be prized and is a blessing from God in the battle. It can only be experienced between true believers. It only exists between true soldiers of Jesus Christ, between those who are ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2). These terms describe the very gospel of Jesus Christ, which are the marching orders and banner of the one true Church.