2 CHRONICLES 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23
Up until now, the kings of Judah have generally been the ‘good guys’ and those of Northern Israel the ‘noisy neighbours’; from today’s readings, Judah starts to sink as low as Israel. Jehoshaphat returns from the losing battle to the safety of Jerusalem – but he did not return to any kind of celebration; in fact, he was met by his prophet, Jehu, who rather gave him a ‘flea in his ear’. “Why are you helping the wicked and loving those who hate the Lord?” he asked rhetorically. Jehoshaphat knew that he was not in God’s favour at present. A rebuke like that can have two different effects: in Ahab’s case (1 Kings 20:42-43) he went into a ‘sulk’ and his behaviour worsened – ‘why bother?’, he might have said to himself. In Jehoshaphat’s case (2 Chronicles 19:4-11) he became more committed to the Lord and set out to reform the nation, just as his father, Asa had. He personally went out among the common people throughout the whole land and urged them to return to the true God. He was a kind of Old Testament evangelist. He also reformed the judiciary (“you are judging for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict”) and purified the priesthood.
The best-known event of Jehoshaphat’s life was the battle with the Moabites and Ammonites and its message is plain and simple: trust wholeheartedly in the Lord and He will always rescue you from harm. It is instructive to list the things that Jehoshaphat did once he realised that trouble loomed on Judah’s borders.
- He was determined first to enquire of the Lord – to find His will
- He humbled himself and encouraged the nation to do so, focussing the humility by fasting
- He called an assembly of the people and declared aloud the Lord’s power and previous acts of redemption
- He worshiped the Lord for his greatness and all His attributes; he recalled aloud how the Lord had rescued Israel and Judah in the past; and he reminded God of the covenant that He had made with Abraham, with David and the nation – and of the conditions that had been agreed for prayer from the Temple
- He asked God for justice in their case, and threw the nation upon God’s mercy
- He then received a prophetic word from the Lord: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s… You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you…”. (2 Chronicles 20:15-17)
- So they took up their positions and loudly praised God for his holiness and his greatness
The Lord was true to his word and won the battle on their behalf, destroying all three opposing armies in a manner reminiscent of the way that he did it for Gideon, many centuries earlier. This resulted in great joy, great faith, and great security, since the surrounding nations had observed closely what had happened and were afraid of Judah’s God. Let us take to heart the word from the Lord in 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 and apply it to our own lives; we certainly may need to ‘take up our positions’ – as though the tasks were down to us – but we also need to get to a position in prayer where the battle becomes the Lord’s and therefore He will do the real fighting. It took a lifetime for Jehoshaphat to get to that understanding; let us learn this principle more quickly from the scriptures!
Jehoshaphat was not a perfect king, and he did subsequently make alliances with undesirable rulers and trust in other men, rather than in the Lord. It does seem to be a trait that occurs in some of us as we age and become more risk-averse. But it is something that must be resisted at all costs.
If Jehoshaphat was a good, God-fearing man of faith, then his eldest son, Jehoram, did not share his father’s spiritual DNA. As soon as he took the throne after his father’s death, he killed his six brothers and the key officials in Jerusalem – to dispose of any rivals to the throne. He also married Athaliah, a daughter of Ahab, who had clearly inherited her mother Jezebel’s desire for Baal worship. Mixed marriages of this kind are lethal to a godly home – both then and now! Do not marry an unbeliever under any circumstances – they will bring you trouble and strife! (You might argue, though, that Jehoram was as spiritually corrupt as his wife, and that this was not a mixed marriage!)
The prophet Elijah writes to Jehoram and rebukes him for his promotion of idol-worship and brings a promise of God’s judgment upon him in the form of destruction of his sons and wives, and a lingering, painful wasting disease of the bowels for Jehoram himself. Both judgments were fulfilled within two years and Jehoram died “to no-one’s regret”.
His one remaining son, Ahaziah, did survive his brothers’ deaths, and so succeeded Jehoram to the throne. With the dark influence of his mother Athaliah, he almost inevitably turned out like most of the evil kings of Israel. A godly mother is so important to a child’s upbringing and it is the Number One ministry for all Christian mothers of young children! If you disciple your child in the way they should live, they will not depart from it when they grow up – says the proverb. Ahaziah also took advice from the chief officials in the Northern Kingdom and often joined Joram, son of Ahab, in waging local wars. This proved to be Ahaziah’s downfall, since he came across Jehu, who was temporarily in charge of Israel whilst Joram was recovering from battle wounds; Jehu took the opportunity to put the death two kings rather than one and Ahaziah was the second victim.
For the first time since David, there was no descendant of his on Judah’s throne, and the wicked Athaliah then ruled for six years in that ‘power vacuum’. The young son of Ahaziah, Joash, was the only threat to her power and was therefore hidden away for protection by Ahaziah’s sister and her husband, Jehoiada, the priest. Bravely they built up support for the young prince amongst the remaining godly people in Judah and waited until the time was right to start a coup. Reliance was again placed on God and on his covenant with King David; these people risked their lives because of their faith in God’s promise! The coup was successful, and the new king was crowned. The idols were destroyed, and the land rejoiced!