A Dishonest Man: A Study in Christian Ethics

Charles E. Stanton

The Bible tells us about a dishonest man named Jehoshaphat. Now Jehoshaphat was neither a thief nor a liar. Thieves and liars are dishonest men and the Bible tells us about both, but few of us are thieves or liars, so we will not talk about this kind of dishonesty. Jehoshaphat was a good man in most ways—an extraordinarily good man. He was dishonest in the way good men are often dishonest. That is the reason we want to talk about him. He was dishonest in the way that we are most in danger of being dishonest. He was dishonest about being faithful to God, and this is the worst kind of dishonesty there is. Jehoshaphat’s dishonesty was the dishonesty of compromise.

Hezekiah was the best king Judah ever had. Jehoshaphat was one of the best. Like Hezekiah, the first thing Jehoshaphat did when he became king was to strengthen the army and the fortifications. Jehoshaphat was a capable man, and he knew how to go ahead with his job. He soon won the respect of the surrounding nations and they sent him tribute in order to be at peace with him.

The next project Jehoshaphat began was still better. In the third year of his reign, he sent out his princes, with priests and Levites to teach in the cities of Judah. He was not content to allow them to teach whatever they saw fit, but he sent the book of the law of the Lord with them. God richly blessed this work of Jehoshaphat’s and we read that by this means Jehoshaphat brought the people back to the Lord God of their fathers. This increased Jehoshaphat’s power still more, so that the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms around about Judah, and Jehoshaphat waxed exceedingly great.

The Bible tells us of a third thing Jehoshaphat did which shows again how good and capable he was. He cleaned up the courts of law, so that all men could secure justice. Bribery and inefficiency are familiar in our courts of law even today, and in those centuries it was even more difficult for men to receive justice at the hands of the law. One of the most certain marks of a good ruler is firmness in securing justice for his people.

We will mention one more good thing which the Bible tells us Jehoshaphat did. The Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites united in an attack on Judah. These combined nations were much more powerful than Judah: In this time of great danger, Jehoshaphat turned to God for help, and all Judah turned to God with him. God delivered Judah by causing these nations to attack and destroy each other.

But sometimes very good men do some things that are very wrong. Compromising is a sin of which good men are often guilty. It was the greatest sin of which we have any record in Jehoshaphat’s life. In II Chronicles, four different ways are mentioned in which Jehoshaphat compromised in a sinful manner, and in I Kings an additional occasion is recorded. The first compromise that the Scriptural account describes reveals this weakness in his character and is given in fullest detail.

One day Jehoshaphat, probably out of his desire to be friendly and a good fellow, went up to see Ahab, King of Israel. Now Ahab had some show of religion about him, but he was really a very godless man. He was really a hater of the Lord; the Bible describes him in these very words. Ahab was very glad to see Jehoshaphat and he made a great celebration for him. Ahab had some plans in which he could make good use of Jehoshaphat. Ahab wanted Jehoshaphat to unite with him in battle against the Syrians. But Jehoshaphat, who loved the Lord, had no business helping Ahab who hated the Lord.

Jehoshaphat did consent to help Ahab, the enemy of the Lord. Just why he did so, we probably cannot tell. But he surely tried to make himself believe that Ahab was better than he really was. Jehoshaphat certainly was dishonest with himself, with his people, and with God in this union with Ahab, for there was an abundance of evidence in the life of Ahab that he was the enemy of God.

We have a great many people like Jehoshaphat in the church today; compromisers, people who are intellectually dishonest. Our modern Ahabs come into the church in the cloak of liberalism. Liberalism is the modern enemy of the gospel, and it tries to make itself look as much like Christianity as possible in order to gain access to the church. It has been very successful; and thousands of Christians everywhere are, like Jehoshaphat, compromising with these modern Ahabs, these modern haters of the Lord. Thousands of believers everywhere are deceiving themselves into believing that these modern Ahabs, with their modernist unbelief, are not really as bad as they might seem to be, are not really enemies of the gospel. And it is often very good, generous, and big-hearted people—as Jehoshaphat was good, generous, and big-hearted—who are willing, as Jehoshaphat was, to compromise with these modern Ahabs.

Jehoshaphat was guilty of a second compromise with Ahab, the enemy of the Lord. Jehoshaphat married his son to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab. Now the Bible often and emphatically forbids marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. Jehoshaphat knew this as well as do we. He must have deceived himself into thinking this girl to be better than she was. She turned out to be just the kind of a woman that anyone might have expected the daughter of Ahab to be: a very godless woman who did much harm to God’s people.

Jehoshaphat compromised somewhat in his religious reforms. He himself sought the Lord God of his father, and walked in His commandments and not after the doings of Israel, and the Lord was with him, but he did not wholly take away the high places where the people had worshiped idols. Two other occasions are recorded in which Jehoshaphat compromised by uniting with the kings of Israel.

Jehoshaphat’s compromises brought the same shamefully disastrous consequences that compromise always brings. The Syrian army easily defeated the combined armies of Ahab and Jehoshaphat. As Jehoshaphat returned home. God sent a prophet out to meet him and to ask him if he should help the ungodly and love them that hate the Lord. Jehu the prophet told Jehoshaphat that for this sin and compromise the wrath of the Lord was upon him. Jehoshaphat’s compromise in marrying his son to Ahab’s daughter brought many evil consequences, one being that after Jehoshaphat’s death she killed all his descendants except one crippled child who was hidden away by his nurse. These alliances with Ahab also resulted in the disastrous introduction into Judah of the abominations of Baal worship. The consequence of Jehoshaphat’s compromise in his religious reforms was that many of the people were encouraged to be only half-hearted in their service to God, and they waited only for the death of Jehoshaphat to turn again to the abominations of idolatry.

Any compromise on the part of God’s people with the haters of God always brings much harm and loss to the church. The visible church today is a living witness to the loss that comes through compromise. For a large proportion of the visible church today—probably a majority—is dedicated to the denial of the gospel rather than to the preaching of it. This has come about by thy various compromises of her members and leaders, and especially by the compromises of recent generations.

Intellectual dishonesty, compromising with the haters of God, has always been one of the most common and most calamitous failures of the church. None of us is entirely free from this sin. We shall do well to examine ourselves to see in what ways we have not been completely honest with ourselves and with God.

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 13, No 1, January 10, 1944. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available online!


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