Jehoshaphat began to rule in the place of his father. While his father Asa had done what was good and right in the ways of the Lord, Jehoshaphat was the first king after David to walk in David’s ways. He actually sought out the God of his father and he walked in the commands of the Lord. We read that he put garrisons in the cities of Ephraim which is saying the cities of Israel. Ephraim is a synonym for Israel here. And the cities mentioned are on the border between Judah and Israel. They were often in flux depending on which kingdom had more power and influence. By the third year of Jehoshaphat’s reign he was sending his leaders, along with some of the Levites and priests , out into the kingdom to teach the people. They carried with them the book of the law. This is the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. When Moses passed the leadership on to Joshua he instructed him to never let this book of the law depart from his mouth. The fact that we see Jehoshaphat sending teachers of the law all throughout Judah means the people no longer knew the law. Now the people would know the Lord and what was expected of them. They would be strong in the Lord and this brought fear among all the nations that surrounded Judah. As a result, God’s people knew peace.
There is no record of Jehoshaphat ever conquering the Philistines but some of them feared him enough that they were willing to bring tribute. Perhaps the accounts of the ark of the Lord and what happened when they took it were still reason to fear the Lord. Up to this point only David had garnered this sort of respect from other nations. All this meant Jehoshaphat continued to grow in power, influence, and strength. He became wealthy with all the gifts and tributes that were given to him. As he grew in power he built up storage cities and fortresses throughout Judah in the event someone might try to attack. Many men were willing and ready to serve him. There were men of war and mighty men of valor, 780,000 from the tribe of Judah and 380,000 from the tribe of Benjamin. Note however that the Hebrew word for thousand can also mean clan or village, maybe even company in a military context. This means the 780,000 may actually refer to 780 companies so the totals would be closer to 78,000 and 38,000. Jehoshaphat had troops stationed in Jerusalem and throughout Judah.
Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor. That was not terribly uncommon in those times for a king. But the northern and southern kingdoms were often at odds and sometimes at war. To prevent discord, Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Israel by marrying King Ahab’s daughter Athaliah. This is the same Ahab who was married to Jezebel. Ahab, who reigned from 873-851 B.C. was politically one of Israel’s strongest kings. In his day Israel was at peace with Judah most of the time and they maintained their dominion over Moab, which paid a hefty tribute. Ahab joined in battle on three different occasions in his later years against Ben-Hadad, king of Syria. The first two campaigns he was very successful but not the third. He was defeated and mortally wounded. Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel was politically advantageous but spiritually disastrous. She introduced Baal worship to Israel and instituted the persecution of the prophets of the Lord. We see some of that struggle in 1 Kings between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal.
A few years after this alliance was made, Jehoshaphat went down to visit king Ahab. You will notice any time people leave Jerusalem to go anyplace, north or south they always go down. This is because Jerusalem is first of all on a hill but more importantly because it is the place where the temple of the Lord is. If people were going to Jerusalem, they would go up to the city, regardless of which direction they were coming from. Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to go into battle with him against Ramoth-Gilead, a city on the east side of the Jordan River. At this time, even though it was in the territory of the half tribe of Manasseh, it was controlled by the Arameans who we would call Syrians today. This city was also one of the six cities of refuge assigned when Joshua assigned the land of the promise to the twelve tribes of Israel. Jehoshaphat agreed to go into battle with Ahab, saying I am as you are. Some believe this means they are all descendants of Jacob and therefore brothers and others believe this is a reference to Jehoshaphat’s marriage to Ahab’s daughter. In any case, they will go into battle together. The interesting thing here is that before they go into battle Ahab consults others for help and guidance. He called the prophets together, 400 men, who were most likely prophets of Asherah the Canaanite goddess worshiped by Jezebel. They encouraged Ahab to go and fight. In fact, they prophesied in the name of the Lord. In this context these 400 prophets were more likely to be ranting and raving. That was typical of the demon possessed false prophets of Canaan. However, Jehoshaphat asked to hear from a prophet of the Lord. There was one, a man named Micaiah. Ahab didn’t like him because he never said anything good to or about him.Micaiah is encouraged to join his voice with all the others but he reveals he is a true prophet of the Lord. He can only speak what the Lord gives him to say. At first he mocks the other prophets by agreeing with them but eventually he gives both kings a prophecy that is not good news for Ahab. Ahab knew from experience that his prophets told him what they thought he wanted to hear, not the truth. Because their prophecies agreed with Micaiah, he knew Micaiah must have been lying when he first spoke of success.
The Bible often uses the image of sheep and shepherds as metaphors for the people of a nation and their king. The fact that Micaiah sees sheep and no shepherd or master means Ahab will die in battle. And the fact that Micaiah saw the the Lord in heaven shows us that the Lord is Sovereign over all. The spirits who stood before him were both demons and angels and none could act without God’s permission. The lying spirit is one whom the Lord allowed to deceive the prophets. Their predictions would not come true but the words of a true prophet of the Lord always come true. Because of this prophecy Ahab instructs King Jehoshaphat to go into battle wearing his royal robes while he, Ahab will go in disguise. Not doubt Ahab figured Jehoshaphat would be killed and he would survive. This was not what God had ordained. Ahab’s wounding may have looked like some random occurrence but there is nothing random about the Lord. Ahab’s disguise could not foil God’s plan. Micaiah’s prophecy had come true.
The rest of today’s reading tells of the rest of Jehoshaphat’s reign. He is chastised for helping the wicked, in other words Ahab. But Jehoshaphat also begins a religious reform throughout Judah. He set judges, here more like local officials, in all the fortified cities of Judah. He commanded them to judge fairly and justly because they were judging in the name of the Lord. The battle of Moab, Ammon, and Seir was intended to test Jehoshaphat’s faith in the Lord. When word came of a vast army headed towards Jerusalem Jehoshaphat went straight to the house of the Lord and offered Him praise and thanksgiving. And he cried out for the Lord to deliver His people. Jehoshaphat’s reforms were not just hollow religiosity. They did not break under the strain of bad circumstances. Jehoshaphat sought the Lord and proclaimed a fast. He knew that any success they might have would be because of the Lord’s favor. And if God was for them, they could not lose. Once again we see what happens when God’s people trust Him wholeheartedly. As the people prayed and fasted the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel. He was a member of the Asaph division of the Levites, and he was probably a musician.
Jahaziel’s message was good news. Listen in. “Do not be afraid or dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours! It is God’s. You will not need to fight this battle. Position yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord who is with you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” So the people went into battle led by singing, the singing of the Lord’s praises. Already the people were celebrating the Lord and His victory. God caused the multitude of fighting men to turn on each other and when Jehoshaphat and the people arrived at the battle sight, all they saw were bodies. It took three days to collect all the spoils and on the fourth day the people once again came together to celebrate and give thanks to the Lord. The spectacle of Jehoshaphat’s enemies in defeat, like the battles Joshua had fought years before, struck fear in the hearts of enemy nations. What had happened with the Ammonites, Moabites and men of Seir had involved an obvious miracle. No human could prevail over the God of Judah and Israel. Jehoshaphat reigned 25 years and did what was right in the sight of the Lord.
However there are a couple of verses about Jehoshaphat making an alliance with Ahaziah, king of Israel who was wicked. They made an alliance to build ships. Ahaziah was the son of Ahab and Jezebel. He was the eighth king of Israel and he worshiped both the golden calves of Jeroboam and the Baals of his mother. He only reigned one year and the most notable part of his reign was the revolt of the Moabites. There are discrepancies in the account of Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah. Here in 2 Chronicles it appears to be a collaboration between the two but the ships were destroyed because Eliezer condemned this alliance as being displeasing to God. But in 1 Kings Jehoshaphat built the ships but refused to let Ahaziah’s men sail with his. And it is quite possible that there was collaboration between the two kings to build ships but Jehoshaphat was alarmed by Eliezer’s prophecy and terminated the agreement.
What we really see here and everyplace else in scripture is that God’s people are messy critters. We are too! We say things and do things that dishonor God. We fail to turn to Him for all our needs. We forget to pray and sometimes we forget Him, whether it is on purpose or out of busyness. We sometimes find ourselves in company we maybe shouldn’t be keeping. And like the people in scripture, God waits for us to return to Him. He wants our praise and thanksgiving, our trust and commitment. When you think about it, nothing much had changed in all the years God’s people have walked on the earth. It appears we are very slow learners!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W