2 Chronicles 20:35-37

SOURCE: Gospel Advocate, 6/22/1972
This is a lengthy article and quite involved, but if you will stay with it to the end, you will be blessed in the reading of it, I am confident–DRL.

An Exercise in Futility

by Dan Harless

Some time ago Brother Goodpasture called my attention to that tantalizing passage of scripture, 1 Kings 22:48, which reads, “Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold: but they went not; for the ships were broken at Ezion-geber.”

Recently Brother Goodpasture called my attention to the passage again, as if to say, “When are you going to do something with it?”  Since then I have looked at it more closely.  It continues to be tantalizing.  In fact, it has become eminently challenging.

We learn more of this incident in ancient history from 2 Chronicles 20:35-37.  A kind of dramatis personae is given and we are also given a look at persons and places, plus an insight into hopes and schemes.  “And after this did Jehoshaphat king of Judah join himself with Ahaziah king of Israel; the same did verey wickedly: and he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish; and they made the ships in Ezion-geber.  Then Eliezer the son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, Jehovah hath destroyed thy works.  And the ships were broken, so that they were not able to go to Tarshish.

The persons and places include…

  • 1.  Jehoshaphat, the good king who made some notable mistakes.
  • 2.  Ahaziah, the son of Ahab, king of Israel.  It is said of Ahaziah that he succeeded his wicked father in every sense of the word.
  • 3.  Eliezer, the priest, who revealed the cause of the disaster.
  • 4.  The influence of the exploits of Solomon whose great fleet had been assembled a hundred years before.
  • 5.  Tarshish, Ezion-geber and Ophir.
  • 6.  Finally, there are the undeniable evidences of the mighty hand of Jehovah who ruled then (and rules now) in the affairs of men.

Solomon’s ships are referred to as “a navy of Tarshish.”  The word “Tarshish” suggests a smelting plant or refinery.  With regard to Solomon’s “refining” fleet, it seems that the copper smelted at Ezion-geber (the modern Tell-el-Keleifeh) was used for trading purposes.  His fleet sailed down the Red Sea and spent as much as three years in making these long hauls.

Much of the wealth which so impressed the Queen of Sheba was gained in this manner.  The Queen concluded that “the half was not told” her concerning the wisdom and riches of Solomon (1 Kings 10:7).  There is a line in Masefield’s “Cargoes” that lifts a passage of Scripture (1 Kings 10:22) nearly word for word:

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

The Ophir of Solomon’s day, famous for its gold mines, was located in S.W. Arabia in what is now Yemen.  In our time the search in that part of the world is for black gold, the oil that keeps the wold’s machinery running, including its weapons of warfare.  The ships of world powers and super powers are seeking and transporting as much fo this liquid wealth as they can get.  Truly, they are ships of Tarshish.

But back to ancient Ophir.  I recall reading, when I was a young lad, the novels of Sir Rider Haggard, particularly the one entitled, King Solomon’s Mines.  It was a thriller in those far-off days.  In the literature of today, featuring the non-hero and violence for the sake of violence, Haggard’s works appear quite tame.  EVen so, I recall that it was absorbing stuff for a youngster back in those days of comparative innocence.

All of which leads me to ask, “What of ships in our time that never sail?”  There are many.  There is, for example, the young man, sincere, idealistic, dedicated–yet lacking in moral stamina.  The assaults of the critics, the skeptics, the malcontents, and the dissidents during his formative years often prove too much for him.  He has rubbed shoulders with them.  He has listened to their ideas, often failing to measure them by the word of God.  Consequently, the young man, in the manner of the ships of Jehoshaphat, is broken; he is “not able to go to Tarshish.”

A young woman, reared in a Christian home and nourished by Christian principles, leaves home for a far-off Ezion-geber, which is to say a college or university of her choice.  Her purpose, and that of her parents, is the building and outfitting of a ship, a human ship that will safely ply the treacherous seas of modern life.  Her destination is Ophir, whose location is in the far reaches of the mind; her quest is moral and spiritual success.  She is astounded by moral laxity all about her.  Eventually, however, she begins to question the values her parents have impressed upon her.  A gradual lowering of the bars of righteousness inhibits her spiritual progress.  The workmanship and materials are no longer chosen for their excellence.  The ship is launched but it is broken and unseaworthy.  It cannot sail.  There will never be a happy, profitable voyage to Ophir.

Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, Jehovah hath destroyed thy works.”  Righteousness is not born of evil.  In our time as in the days of Isaiah, calling “evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20), will not work.  Christians, young and old, are a sweet-savor and a powerful influence in this world.  But it is quite possible for the salt of the earth to lose its savor, in which case it is “thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot” (Matthew 5:13).  The metaphors differ; the principle remains the same.

Jehoshaphat encountered and embraced evil in the person of Ahaziah.  Evil has many forms and travels many roads.  The more infatuated we become with evil the more blinded we become to its ugliness.  Pope was right…

Vice is a monster of so frightful mein,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace

Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters,” but man insists it’s worth a try.  Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other,” but man says it is not so, that he is merely broadening his perspective; that he is a complex creature with diverse interests and that he can live successfully in two worlds at once.  But Jesus has the last word, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

The history of mankind is a history of the absoluteness of our Lord’s teaching.  The first object lesson was demonstrated in Eden.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses–at one time or another these and other great men of old endeavored to walk on both sides of the street at once.  It couldn’t be done then.  It can’t be done now.  There will never be a time when it can.  Jehoshaphat learned this lesson the hard way.  His ships were broken.  Ships continue to be broken in our time.  What about yours?  and mine?  Are they destined to sail to fabulous Ophir or will they be broken before ever they sail?

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