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Asa oppressed many of the people, and being attacked at the close of his life with a painful disease in his feet, he had recourse to persons styled physicians, but who in that age were mere pretenders to the art, whom it was impious in an Israelite to consult, on account of their superstitious practices. To such impostors Asa addressed himself, rather than to the Priests and Levites, who were appointed by the law; but these pretenders had no power to heal, and he died in the forty-first year of his reign, and was buried with magnificent funeral honours in the sepulchre he had made in the city of David.
During his long reign Asa governed as faithful Israelite, and may be regarded as religious king, though his faith gave way in one instance to schemes of worldly policy, and his temper becoming irritable by disease, the last years of his reign were stained with some acts of injustice and cruelty; he repressed idolatry, the first duty of a king of Judah, and his reign was glorious. He was succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat.
JEHOSHAPHAT SENDS TEACHERS OF THE LAW INTO ALL
THE CITIES : MAKES A LEAGUE WITH AHAB: IS DEFEATED WITH HIM AT RAMOTH-GILEAD: DIES AFTER A GOOD REIGN OF TWENTY-FIVE YEARS.
II. Chron. xvü.—xx. 1. Kings xxii.
JEHOSHAPAAT commenced his reign 914. with vigour, and showed a zealous regard for the welfare of his people. He strengthened his kingdom by placing garrisons in the cities which his father, Asa, had taken from the kings of Israel, and in all the fortified towns throughout his dominions, and thus so effectually kept in check the Philistines and Arabians, whose hostility was ever ready to break out against Judah, when governed by a feeble or irreligious king, that they became his tributaries. Besides thus providing for the military defence of his kingdom Jehoshaphat sought to improve its internal condition, by regulating the administration of justice, and above all, by purifying the land from every vestige of idolatry. He caused the groves to be cut down, and the high places which still remained to be destroyed, and as a yet more certain way of rooting out these degrading superstitions, he formed a commission consisting of five Princes, two Priests, and nine Levites, and sent them through the cities of Judah, to
teach the people, and instruct them in the Book of the Law, a copy of which they carried with them. This ordonnance of Jehoshaphat is remarkable if we consider the time in which it was framed, as it is the earliest if not the only instance we have, of any means being taken for the instruction of the common people: this was indeed provided for by the Law of Moses, which commanded all the men of Israel to assemble at Jerusalem at the Feasts, when the Priests were to expound the Law to them: but when the Law itself was only partially obeyed, and many remained at home, but little attention would be given to its study; whereas a royal commission taking up its residence in every city for the sole purpose of instructing the people in it, must necessarily excite deeper interest and attention, and give an opportunity to the lowest and most ignorant to learn the religious duties to which they were especially called as the descendants of Abraham, and the chosen people of Jehovah.
Jehoshaphat made other regulations for the government of his kingdom, equally wise and salutary. He set Judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city, and he said to the Judges, “Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you: take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts."
Besides these judges, who went at stated times through the land, Jehoshaphat established a permanent tribunal in Jerusalem, which met on their return, to consider and decide upon cases too difficult for their decision, which were thus settled by the united counsel of the most eminent men in the state. The High Priest was supreme judge in all cases which concerned religion, and the chief of the tribe of Judah in all the king's matters. Thus the institutions of Samuel and David which had probably gone into disuse, were restored and enlarged to suit the wants of the nation, and the king travelled himself into every district, and visited every city from Ephrain to Beersheba, to see that his edicts were observed, and the people obedient to the Law. Prosperity and peace were the reward of his wise government; the people increased rapidly in number and strength, and the nations round sought their friendship. “Also some of the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat presents, and tribute silver; and the Arabians brought him flocks, seven thousand seven hundred rams, and seven thousand seven hundred he-goats. And Jehoshaphat waxed great exceedingly.”
Although thus prepared by the strength of his cities and the good government of his people, to resist any attack from his enemies, Jehoshaphat loved peace, and sought no occasion of war with the neighbouring nations. He was the first king of Judah who made a treaty of the rival kingdom of Israel, and it would have been well had he only done this; but he entered into a close alliance with the idolatrous house of Ahab, and married his eldest son Jehoram to a daughter of Jezebel. This alliance proved fatal to his family after his death, and filled the kingdom of Judah with bloodshed. Its first consequences were a presage of the future ills which arose from this ill-advised and dangerous union with a wicked king, and his yet worse queen. Going down to Samaria, Jehoshaphat was received by Ahab with every demonstration of respect and cordiality; he offered sacrifices, and made feasts in his honour, and when they were thus full of peace and amity, and in all the warmth of their newly-formed friendship, Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to go with him against Ramoth-Gilead, a city lying on the borders of Gilead, which was a frequent subject of contest between the kings of Israel and Syria. It was now in the power of the Syrians, from whom Ahab desired to re-take it, and he thought it a favourable opportunity to attack it with the support of the army of Jehoshaphat. To this request the King of Judah too readily consented: he answered with unreflecting cordiality, “I am as thou art, and my people as thy people: and we will be with thee in the war.” Soon however recollecting himself, he added, “Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the Lord to day.” To satisfy Jehoshaphat, Ahab then pretended to consult the priests, but they were the priests and prophets of Baal, and they gave, as he expected, an answer which flattered