2 Chronicles 21 – Jehoram’s Evil Reign
A. The sins of Jehoram.
1. (1-5) The murder of his brothers.
And Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jehoram his son reigned in his place. He had brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat: Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azaryahu, Michael, and Shephatiah; all these were the sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. Their father gave them great gifts of silver and gold and precious things, with fortified cities in Judah; but he gave the kingdom to Jehoram, because he was the firstborn. Now when Jehoram was established over the kingdom of his father, he strengthened himself and killed all his brothers with the sword, and also others of the princes of Israel. Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem.
a. Then Jehoram his son reigned in his place: The father of Jehoram was the godly King Jehoshaphat. Yet one of the worst things Jehoshaphat ever did was arrange the marriage of his son Jehoram to Athaliah, the daughter of the evil King Ahab and his wife Jezebel (2 Kings 8:16-18; 8:26).
b. Their father gave them great gifts…with fortified cities: Jehoshaphat followed the same wise policy with his sons that Rehoboam had previously followed (2 Chronicles 11:18-23) – to scatter them throughout the kingdom and away from the capital so they would not be a concentrated threat to his one son to succeed him, Jehoram.
i. “Jehoshaphat king of Israel; so he is called, either, 1. Because he was so by right. Or, 2. Because he was king not only of Judah and Benjamin, but of a great number of Israelites, who had come into and settled themselves in his kingdom…. Or, 3. Because all his subjects were Israelites; and therefore he was king of Israel, though not of all Israel…. Some say Israel was foisted into some copies by the transcriber instead of Judah, as it was first written.” (Poole)
c. He strengthened himself and killed all his brothers with the sword, and also others of the princes of Israel: Despite Jehoshaphat’s wise policy of scattering his sons, Jehoram made it a point to murder all his brothers so they would not be any kind of a threat against his reign.
i. “Jehoram’s response to God’s goodness, however, was to put not only all his brothers to the sword, but some of his leading ‘officials’ as well. ‘Made himself strong’ therefore, clearly means the violent removal of all other possible claimants to the throne.” (Selman)
ii. The wickedness of Jehoram was not a surprise, considering how much he allowed himself to be influenced by the house of Ahab. “Josephus expands on this, indicating that he committed the murders at the prompting of Athaliah.” (Dilday)
iii. Perhaps some people thought that the marriage between the royal families of the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel would lift up the kingdom of Israel spiritually. It didn’t work that way. Instead, it brought the kingdom of Judah down spiritually.
2. (6-7) Why God showed mercy to Jehoram.
And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD. Yet the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.
a. He walked in the way of the kings of Israel: This was not a compliment. While the southern kingdom of Judah had a mixture of godly and wicked kings, the northern kingdom of Israel had nothing but evil, God-rejecting kings.
i. “This was Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, who was famous for her impieties and cruelty, as was her most profligate mother. It is likely that she was the principal cause of Jehoram’s cruelty and profaneness.” (Clarke)
ii. His father Jehoshaphat was a godly man who had a bad and sinful habit of making compromising associations. The worst fruit of this sinful tendency was not evident until after Jehoshaphat’s death.
b. Yet the LORD would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David: The implication is that Jehoram’s evil was great enough to justify such judgment, but God withheld it out of faithfulness to his ancestor David.
i. “The lamp was more than a symbol of life and of testimony, it reminded the hearer of the covenant (Psalm 132:17, c.f. 2 Chronicles 21:7).” (Wiseman)
ii. When God first made this promise to David it was not formally called a covenant (1 Chronicles 17, 2 Samuel 7). However, it was divinely called a covenant afterwards (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 89:3, 89:34; Psalm 132:11-12). (Payne)
B. The consequences of his sin
1. (8-11) Jehoram’s sinful compromise and the revolt of Edom and Libnah.
In his days Edom revolted against Judah’s authority, and made a king over themselves. So Jehoram went out with his officers, and all his chariots with him. And he rose by night and attacked the Edomites who had surrounded him and the captains of the chariots. Thus Edom has been in revolt against Judah’s authority to this day. At that time Libnah revolted against his rule, because he had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers. Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit harlotry, and led Judah astray.
a. In his days Edom revolted against Judah’s authority: For some time, Edom was essentially a client kingdom to Judah and owed them tribute (taxes). Under the reign of Jehoram, the leaders of Edom sensed weakness in Judah and their opportunity to free themselves.
i. “Nothing else is known of trouble in Libnah, a town of uncertain location on Judah’s western border not far from Lachish.” (Selman)
ii. “As long as the kings of Judah remained true to their allegiance to God, they were able to keep in subjection the surrounding nations; but just so soon as they revolted from God these people revolted from them. It was as though power descended into them from the source of all power; and when that link between themselves and God was broken, that between themselves and their subordinates was broken also.” (Meyer)
iii. This applies to our passions; when we are properly submitted to God, our passions are properly submitted to us. When we come out from submission to God, we often find our passions flare up in seemingly overwhelming strength. It also applies to the proper exercise of authority in any sphere – home, government, church, society – it is safe to submit to those who are already submitted to God.
b. He rose by night and attacked the Edomites who had surrounded him: We aren’t told the specific outcome of this battle; perhaps it was inconclusive. Yet because of Edom’s continued revolt against Judah, it was evident that Judah did not exert itself over Edom and they remained somewhat independent.
c. Thus Edom has been in revolt against Judah’s authority: This is evidence of the weakness of the kingdom of Jehoram. He thought that the marriage alliance with Ahab and the kingdom of Israel would make Judah stronger, but this act of disobedience only made them weaker – because he had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers.
d. Moreover he made high places: It was the policy of both his father Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:6) and his grandfather Asa (2 Chronicles 14:1-5) to work against these high places. Jehoram promoted them instead.
i. “He is the first Judean king who actually constructed high places, among which is probably to be counted a Baal temple in Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chronicles 23:17).” (Selman)
e. And caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit harlotry: Their idolatry was likened to harlotry for two reasons. First, the worship of these pagan sex/fertility gods and goddesses often involved immorality with a pagan priestess or priest. Second, since Israel was obligated to be faithful to God as a wife is obligated to be faithful to her husband, their idolatry was like harlotry in a spiritual sense.
2. (12-15) Elijah’s letter of rebuke to Jehoram.
And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus says the LORD God of your father David: Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those of your father’s household, who were better than yourself, behold, the LORD will strike your people with a serious affliction; your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day.
a. And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet: Elijah’s main ministry was to the kings of the northern tribes, the kingdom of Israel. Yet on occasion God also used him to speak to kings of Judah, this time through a letter.
i. “How could this be, when Elijah was rapt up to heaven in Jehoshaphat’s time, 2 Kings 2; 3:11. Answer. Either, 1. This was Elisha, or some other prophet called Elijah, because he acted in the spirit and the power of Elijah, for which John the Baptist is also called. Or rather, 2. This was really written by Elijah, who by the Spirit did clearly foresee and foretell the reign and acts of Jehoram.” (Poole)
ii. “Elijah may, however, have been gone by the time of the delivery of his letter, so that its sentence of doom could have had the force of a voice coming from the dead.” (Payne)
b. But have walked in the way of the kings of Israel: This was God’s main complaint against Jehoram. He had refused to follow the pattern of his father and grandfather and instead decided to follow the example of his father-in-law Ahab.
c. Who were better than yourself: God considered the brothers of Jehoram to be more worthy successors to the throne of Judah than Jehoram himself.
d. You will become very sick with a disease of your intestines: God promised this painful ailment would come to Jehoram as a punishment for his sins.
3. (16-17) Further troubles of the reign of Jehoram.
Moreover the LORD stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabians who were near the Ethiopians. And they came up into Judah and invaded it, and carried away all the possessions that were found in the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that there was not a son left to him except Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons.
a. Moreover the LORD stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabians: This was another judgment against Jehoram – to bring enemies against him to trouble his reign.
b. Also his sons and his wives, so that there was not a son left to him except Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons: This was a fitting judgment against Jehoram. In trying to protect his own throne he murdered all his brothers, and eventually found that all his sons were taken except one.
i. “In the outworkings of God’s justice, the man who began by massacring his own brothers ended by suffering the loss of his sons and wives.” (Payne)
4. (18-20) Jehoram’s gruesome end.
After all this the LORD struck him in his intestines with an incurable disease. Then it happened in the course of time, after the end of two years, that his intestines came out because of his sickness; so he died in severe pain. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning for his fathers. He was thirty-two years old when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem eight years and, to no one’s sorrow, departed. However they buried him in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.
a. After all this the LORD struck him in his intestines with an incurable disease: Again, this was a fitting judgment. There was a sense in which Jehoram was rotten spiritually from within; here, God simply caused the physical condition of his body to correspond to the spiritual condition of his soul – so he died in severe pain.
i. “The Targum seems to intimate that he had a constipation and inflammation in his bowels; and that at last his bowels gushed out.” (Clarke)
ii. Apparently he suffered for two years. “This was a long while to lie under so intolerable a disease; and yet all this was but a typical hell, a foretaste of eternal torments, unless he repented.” (Trapp)
iii. “Translation problems have increased the difficulty, and the end may have come suddenly, ‘in two days’ (cf. Keil, Dillard), rather than at the end of the second year.” (Selman)
b. And, to no one’s sorrow, departed: This compromising and sinful king was not mourned when he died. “He is one of the most unlovely of all the kings of Judah. ‘Exalted by Jehovah,’ he was for his wickedness thrust down to a dishonoured grave.” (Knapp)
i. “As he lived wickedly, so he died wishedly.” (Trapp)
ii. “He was hated while he lived, and neglected when he died; visibly cursed of God, and necessarily execrate by the people whom he had lived only to corrupt and oppress. No annalist is mentioned as having taken the pains to write any account of his vile life.” (Clarke)
iii. “Strange indeed is the human heart. It turns to evil, and pursues it persistently; and yet it never really loves those who lead it in the way of evil…. Love is only inspired by goodness. Men will follow those who lead them in the ways of corruption, but such following is always inspired by evil selfishness, and never by admiration or love.” (Morgan)