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Please read 2 Chronicles 17-21
The twenty-five years of the reign of Jehoshaphat were among the most notable in all the history of the people of Judah. For much of this period, material prosperity and military supremacy were enjoyed. Yet within it there were times of spiritual declension, when Jehoshaphat led his people contrary to the will of God. His reign provides a clear example of the principle that revival among the people of God frequently results from faithfulness on the part of the leaders - allied, of course, to the willingness of the people to receive instruction and follow good example.
Early spiritual condition
The early days of Jehoshaphat's reign were clearly times of great spiritual resolve. To the casual reader, the introductory statement that he "strengthened himself against Israel" is, perhaps, surprising, but it must be remembered that, in the closing years of Asa, his father, Israel had set herself up as Judah' 5 implacable enemy (16:1). It was in defence, therefore, of the safety of his people against the incursions of an apostate Israel that Jehoshaphat placed strategic garrisons throughout the land.
In these early days the spiritual integrity of Jehoshaphat was of a high order. One is moved to admiration by the divine commendation of the young king. "He walked in the first ways of his father David... sought to the God of his father, and walked in His commandments... his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord". The word and will of Jehovah occupied the prime place in his life. This is the hallmark of the true man of God, and it is only through men with sanctified and submissive wills that God can work. Jehoshaphat's leadership in loyalty to the will of God led his people back to the purity and truth of the worship of the Lord.
A teaching ministry
Not only did Jehoshaphat devote himself to keeping the law of his God, but he also organized its teaching among the people. Three years into his reign, Jehoshaphat "sent his princes... to teach in the cities of Judah; and with them the Levites... and... the priests. And they taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them" The spiritual lives of the people of God can only be nourished by feeding on His word, and regulated by its observance. Failure in this leads, inevitably, to spiritual weakness. It is one of the prime functions of leaders among God's people to teach "the doctrine which is according to godliness" (1 Tim. 6:3). In their day, the apostles were keenly aware of the importance of a right understanding of the word of God by the people of God. We remember, for example, that Paul made it a matter of constant prayer that the Colossian disciples would be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing" (Col. 1:9,10).
It is instructive to note that, in Jehoshaphat's case, the exercise to teach others followed his own practical obedience to the word. This is a godly principle which, among others, was later seen in Ezra, who "had set his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgements" (Ezra 7:10).
"It shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before Him" (Eccles. 8:12), and Jehoshaphat and his kingdom proved that the blessing of the Lord is upon those who are obedient to His word. The surrounding nations "made no war against Jehoshaphat". The king himself increased in greatness, and his military prowess was considerable. He also "had riches and honour in abundance". The lesson that obedience to the revealed will of God is the path to blessing is writ large on the page of Scripture, yet how slow we are to learn it. "To obey is better than sacrifice", is a message as valid today as when spoken to the unhappy Saul at Gilgal (1 Sam. 15:22).
With an apparently startling suddenness Jehoshaphat made affinity with the king of Israel. When one takes into account Israel's departure from God, alliance with her could not be other than wrong, and the wrong was compounded by the character of the man who was Israel's king, for Ahab "did sell himself to do that which was evil in the sight of the LORD" (1 Kin. 21:25). The early verses of2 Chron. 18 indicate strongly that Jehoshaphat had entered into this liaison without seeking the mind of the Lord. Had he done so, this disastrous alliance would never have taken place.
The propensity for self-will is strong in all of us, and Jehoshaphat evinced it right to the end of this unhappy episode in his life. True, he insisted on hearing what Micaiah the prophet had to say, but despite the clarity of the warning given, "the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead". Jehoshaphat's experience provides but one example of the disastrous consequences of following our own will. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path" (Psa. 119:105), is the only guideline for us to follow. Failure to observe the will of God, as revealed to us in His word, will end in spiritual tragedy.
For Jehoshaphat, that end was only narrowly averted. In battle against the Syrians, he was mistaken for the king of Israel, and came under severe attack. But "Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him". "If we are faithless, He abideth faithful" (2 Tim. 2:13). A merciful God intervened to save the life of His faithless servant.
For Jehoshaphat, there was a solemn lesson to be learned from this experience. On his return in peace to Jerusalem, he was met by Jehu the son of Hanani the seer, who, among other things, informed him that, "For this thing wrath is upon thee from the LORD". The principle that, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7) applies to the people of God in every day. Jehoshaphat's ungodly liaison with Ahab had tragic results both for his nation and for his immediate family. Jehoram, his son, married Ahab's daughter, murdered his own brothers, and died of incurable disease "without being desired". All of Jehoram's sons, except the youngest, were slain at the hands of the Arabians (22:1), and all the seed royal (save Joash, who had been hidden away) were put to death by Jehoram' 5 evil widow, Athaliah. May the Lord keep His people of this generation loyal to the carrying out of His revealed will!
Happily, Jehoshaphat found repentance, and 2 Chronicles 19 is a record of revival in the true sense of that word. The rebuke by Jehu appears to have been taken to heart, and once more Jehoshaphat applied himself to the doing of the will of God.
He "dwelt at Jerusalem" - the place in which God had chosen to place His name. Jerusalem, "the city of the great king", occupied a unique place in the dealings of God with His people. It was the place of His testimony and of His service, and He rejoiced to see His people there. The lead given by Jehoshaphat to his people in this matter was one of vital significance. Similarly, in contrast to the sad leadership he gave in ch. 18, Jehoshaphat now showed the true characteristics of a leader among God's people, in that, "he went out again among the people... and brought them back unto the Lord, the God of their fathers".
This was the period, too, in which Jehoshaphat set judges throughout all the fenced cities of Judah. Rule among the people of God is an indispensable part of their divine constitution. David had written of Jerusalem, "There are set thrones for judgement" (Psa. 122:5), and the spiritual welfare of God's people is dependent on, among other things, the administration of His rule. Jehoshaphat's charge to the judges (19:6-11) is worth consideration. Faithfulness in judgement is vital. Courage in its administration is needed. No respect of persons must be shown. Judgement must be executed in the
fear of the Lord. And the people must constantly be warned, "that they be not guilty toward the LORD". The application of all this to God's New Covenant people is clear. But, for its perfect outworking we must look to the coming One, of whom it is written, "His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD: and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears: but with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth" (Isa. 11:3,4).
Relying on God
It has been part of the experience of the people of God in every age to come under attack, and Jehoshaphat's day was no exception. Against him there came "a great multitude" of his enemies. The danger could not be ignored. The defence of the nation was imperative - but their best (and only) defence lay in the Lord. Jehoshaphat exemplified the spirit expressed by the writer of Psalm 121, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence shall my help come? My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth". Thus, when human counsel would have been to take up arms, Jehoshaphat "set himself to seek unto the Lord". Once again, his leadership of the people in a matter of vital importance had the desired result, for "Judah gathered themselves together, to seek help of the LORD: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord". "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me", is the promise of God (Psa. 50:15), a promise the truth of which Judah was about to discover.
The trust and dependence shown by Jehoshaphat and Judah was dramatically honoured by the Lord. Through Jahaziel, the Spirit of God brought assurance to their troubled hearts. "Fear not, neither be dismayed ... Ye shall not need to fight in this battle". Perhaps most startling of all was the repetition of the word given to their forefathers when, on leaving Egypt, they found themselves trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing army, "Stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lo~ with you" (20:17; cf Exod. 14:13). What God promised, He performed in the most wonderful way. We shall pass over the story of how He effected their deliverance, but note that the people whose faith in the Lord's promise was demonstrated by their praise and singing as they went out to meet the foe, returned after the victory to the house of God, "with psalteries and harps and trumpets".
The prosperity and tranquillity which followed this experience were remarkable. The presence of God among His people and His intervention against their enemies became widely known, "so the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet: for his God gave him rest round about". Is not the lesson clear? Separation to the Lord, loyalty to His word, trust in His power to keep and deliver, and faithful service in His house are all necessary if His people are to know divine power and blessing. When, like Jehoshaphat, we conform to these principles of personal and collective service, we shall know the presence of the Lord among us, with all the promise of revival which this implies.
Sadly, the history of Jehoshaphat does not stop at this point. Over all, his record was good, "doing that which was right in the eyes of the Lo~", but the end of his life was once more marred by departure. It was the old problem re-appearing, Again, he made affinity with a king of Israel, one who "did very wickedly". And once again the episode ended in disaster. "Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah", he was told, "The Lord hath destroyed thy works". Surely, in the record of the life of Jehoshaphat, the Spirit of God is laying particular emphasis on the immense importance of separation in the lives of the people of God. Principles of divine gathering must be safeguarded and the dangers of wrong associations avoided. "Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Cor. 6:17), is a divine command whose observance today, as in the days of the early churches, will bring blessing to the people of God.