JEHOSHAPHAT: Help in Distress

Jehoshaphat and the army of Judah plunder the slain enemy army.

2 Chronicles 20:1—30

Ever been in distress? If you have, then probably know what it means, for those happy few who have never been in distress, here is a definition from Dictionary.com:

1. great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble
2. a state of extreme necessity or misfortune.
3. the state of a ship or airplane requiring immediate assistance, as when on fire in transit.

That about covers it; no matter how positive you may be, there is nothing good about distress. You can do your best to avoid it, but eventually you will encounter distress in your life. In Chronicles, there is a lot of distress. The two kingdoms of Israel—Israel to the north and Judah to the south—faced a lot of distress from inside and outside. One thing is certain about the distress Israel and Judah faced: it revealed the true character of their leaders.

Considering the fact that the Jews were God’s chosen people, we may find it surprising that they faced so much distress. We could understand it if their distress was always the result of their sin and sinful choices, but that wasn’t the case. Sometimes the distress God’s people faced had nothing to do with them; sometimes there seemed to be no logical reason for the distress. How do we deal with that? How do we, as Christians, deal with the distress we encounter when it seems there is no reason for it? One thing is sure, God is omnipotent and omniscient, but sometimes He just allows distress to come into our lives. How we deal with God during these times of distress is at least as important as how we deal with the distress.

As we approach 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat is a well-know figure in the narrative. He followed his father, Asa, as king of Judah. Up to this point in his life, Jehoshaphat walked as a man of God. But, like most men of God, King Jehoshaphat made an unwise decision that almost cost him his life. He struck a deal with Ahab, king of Israel to the north to do battle against Ramoth Gilead. King Ahab was an evil, deceitful king, and eve though Jehoshaphat had no business entering into an agreement with him, God spared Jehoshaphat’s life and he continued to govern Judah with excellence.

Chapter 20 recounts the greatest period of distress in Jehoshaphat’s reign.

1. A cry for help, 2 Chron. 20:1—13

[a] An terrible threat, verses 1—4

Some time around or shortly after 853 BC, King Jehoshaphat faced a wholly unexpected invasion by the combined forces of Moab, Ammon, and people known as “the Meunites.” Just before this unprovoked enemy attack, Jehoshaphat installed godly judges throughout the land:

He told them, “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for mere mortals but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the LORD be on you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (2 Chronicles 19:6, 7)

This was a major step for the king to take; it was meant to incline the hearts of the people toward God. This was, without a doubt, the right thing for the king to do. And yet, it was just after this that the time of distress came.

There was no enemy more powerful, treacherous, fearsome, and numerous than the combined forces of the Moab and Ammon. The last time they engaged Israel in battle was during David’s tenure as king. There is no record as to why they chose this moment to march against Judah. What we do know is that Judah was at peace with them and their aggression was completely unwarranted.

Despite his great faith in God and devotion to Him, Jehoshaphat was “alarmed” (verse 3). Who wouldn’t be? The king wasn’t made of stone! Here he had done everything right, yet he was about face his greatest foe for no good reason.

Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. (verses 3, 4)

In spite of what faced him, Jehoshaphat continued to do the right thing; he went straight to the Lord, did not complain, then went ahead and rallied the entire nation by declaring a fast. Because the hearts of the people were already inclined to God thanks to the godly judges appointed by the king, they responded wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. The people rose the king’s expectation of them.

[b] Recalling God’s story, verses 5—9

In times of crisis and distress, remembering previous experiences with God and God’s help can be a source of great strength. We see this throughout the Psalms; when David was in distress or his life in danger he often recounted in poetic form his past experiences with God’s delivering power.

As we read the king’s prayer, we notice a series of questions; this was typical of Hebrew prayers. It sounds as though God’s character is being questioned, but it isn’t. Nor does God need to be reminded about all the good things He has done for His people. It is a reminder to the one praying of God’s greatness. We have short memories, and even when praying we should rehearse all that God has done for us and blessed us with.

[c] Urgent prayer for help, verses 10—13

After recalling all that God had done for His people and quoting from his great-great-grandfather Solomon’s prayer, Jehoshaphat called on God for help. The king and his people faced the dilemma all people face from time to time:

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. (verse 12b)

While nobody knew what to do about the situation of God’s enemy, there was one option open to them that is also open to every child of God—our eyes are on you.  This great statement of faith was reminiscent of what his father Asa had said:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. LORD, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.” (2 Chronicles 14:11)

Obviously Asa raised his son right!

2. Following God’s plan, 2 Chron. 20:14—19

Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Dot be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ (verse 15)

[a] An encouraging prophecy

When God’s people seek Him sincerely, God answers! Sometimes He doesn’t answer right away; sometimes we have to wait. That period of waiting can be difficult and it can try our faith, but God always comes through for His people. The priest/prophet Jahaziel, was God’s spokesman. This man was of noted lineage, being a descendant of Asaph, chief Levitical musician during David’s time. His word of encouragement to Jehoshaphat resembled the spirit of David against Goliath:

All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands. (2 Samuel 17:47)

If God helped David and gave him the desired victory, why wouldn’t He do exactly the same thing for Jehoshaphat? Jahaziel further said:

Stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you. (verse 17)

The army had to assume their positions and be ready to fight, but victory was assured. There are times when a believer must pray earnestly and then exert natural human effort, and then are other times when the prayer is enough. Here, we see a little of both. Jehoshaphat and his army had to get ready to fight, then God would hand them the victory.

[b] A reverent response, verses 18, 19

The king had to make a quick decision, and the Spirit of God guided him to the truth. He knew the prophet was speaking the very words of God, and in response, the king humbly bowed his head with all the people giving thanks while the Levites stood and shouted praise to God. What a sight that must have been!

3. Trust God to deliver, 2 Chron. 20:20—30

[a] A strange battle plan, verses 20, 21

Make no mistake about it, this was a holy war. At one time, the army of Israel would have marched into battle preceded by the Ark of the Covenant. Those days, however, were now a distant memory. While they didn’t have the Ark, they did have the Levites, the tribe of priests. It was the Levites that marched ahead of the army, singing praises to God! An odd battle plan, to be sure, but God had to be honored and the people’s fear and apprehension had to be assuaged. Nothing can encourage a believer better than praise. The sight of the Levites singing and praising God ahead of the army marching into battle must have struck the religious and patriotic nerve of every citizen of Judah.

That same sight, though, must have seemed silly in the extreme to Judah’s enemies. God’s ways, though, never make much sense to outsiders. When God moves on you to do something, it may seem odd to others, but that shouldn’t deter you in any way from carrying out God’s wishes for you to the letter. Obedience always brings success.

[b] God’s victory, verses 22—24

As He had promised, Israel showed up to fight but didn’t need to raise a sword. For some reason, internal strife broke out among the enemy soldiers and instead of fighting the army of Judah, they turned and fought one another. Not a single soldier of the enemy remained alive.

When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped. (verse 24)

Can you imagine what crossed the minds of the soldiers of Judah? The last time an invading army destroyed themselves was during Gideon’s day:

When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. (Judges 7:22)

If this teaches us anything it is that God never changes! No enemy of God’s people can prevail; either God will destroy them somehow, or He will empower His people to destroy them, or they will destroy themselves! What happened to the Moabite and Ammonite armies adds a whole new meaning to the old saying, “there is no honor among thieves.”

[c] Joyous celebration of God’s grace, verses 25—30

It didn’t take long for the soldiers to overcome their initial shock and bewilderment at the sight of hundreds and hundreds of dead soldiers lying before them. In short order, the army of Judah plundered the dead bodies of the their enemies for three days. Three days! That’s a lot dead soldiers and a lot of plunder to collect.

On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berakah, where they praised the LORD. This is why it is called the Valley of Berakah to this day. (verse 26)

“Berakah” is a wonderful word; it means “the place to bless the Lord.” The soldiers and people knew to whom the credit needed to God for their victory.

The result of this battle cannot be overstated:

The fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel. And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side (verses 29, 30)

These two verses should be studied by presidents and prime ministers around the world. It is God alone who gives a nation—any nation—peace and rest. It seems like nobody learns this lesson. Rest and peace do not come about by policy and law, or by treaties and alignments. Rest and peace are not the results of merely winning a war. How many wars have been fought and won by America since it’s inception; are we at peace today? The reason why there is no peace is because God has not given it. We, like all nations around the world, are not trusting in or looking for the Prince of Peace.

King Jehoshaphat was a godly king. He was not perfect, but he served the Lord well, with distinction. In times of distress, we should all remember the heroes of 2 Chronicles 20 and follow their example. We should not remember or trust in our own strength, but in God’s. We need to remember what God has done for His people throughout history. You and I as believers are descendants of Jehoshaphat; his history is ours. Let’s learn to let God fight our battles.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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