Jehoshaphat, who is mentioned in the genealogy of the Lord in Matthew 1. 8, was thirty-five years old when he succeeded his father Asa on the throne of Judah, 1 Kings 22. 42. He reigned for twenty-five years from approximately 897 until 850 B.C.
At the beginning of his reign Jehoshaphat “… strengthened himself against Israel”, 2 Chron. 17. 1. Israel and its king, Ahab, were a problem and a threat to Judah, and Jehoshaphat, whose name may be translated as “God is judge”, displayed wisdom in taking these precautionary measures.
In his early days Jehoshaphat sought to obey God’s commandments. God was with him and he prospered, 2 Chron. 17. 3-5. His heart was lifted up in the things of God, 2 Chron. 17. 6. Worldly knowledge can puff up, 1 Cor. 8. 1, and lead to pride and backsliding, but the believer who increases not just in head knowledge, but in a life-affecting knowledge of God and of the truths revealed in His Word will become increasingly Christ-like in character and increasingly useful in God’s service.
Jehoshaphat was sufficiently aware of spiritual realities to recognize the need for the people to be taught the things of God and he organised teaching in these matters throughout Judah, 2 Chron. 17. 7, 8.
The first verse of 2 Chronicles chapter 18 informs us of a sad development in the life of Jehoshaphat. We are told that he “… joined affinity with Ahab”. The Spirit says of this man “… there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up”, 1 Kings 21. 25. The affinity spoken of probably related to a marriage between Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram, and Athaliah the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, 2 Chron. 21. 6. This marriage almost resulted in the annihilation of the royal line of king David, 2 Chron. 22. 10-12.
It is possible that Jehoshaphat thought that both kingdoms would be brought together as a result of the marriage. Unity among the people of God is a delightful thing, Psa. 133. 1, but we must be careful regarding the methods used to achieve unity. If attempts are made to achieve unity with those who are not obeying truths which are plainly taught in the Scriptures, then the results of such unity will be dishonouring to God, and those involved in the union will suffer loss as did Jehoshaphat and those associated with him.
Jehoshaphat had strengthened the kingdom against attack from the outside at the beginning of his reign, but as he prospered he became less careful and was led astray by Ahab.
It is salutary to observe the way in which a number of good kings of Israel displayed wisdom at the beginning of their reigns and yet later fell into error. Consider, for example, Solomon, Asa, Joash, Hezekiah and David, 2 Chron. 17. 3. Among believers today there are many who at one time ran well but have since become backsliders. Success, an increase in secular responsibilities and an easing of persecution can bring problems: pride and slackness in spiritual matters may arise in a believer’s heart when times are easy and things are going well. We learn that the downfall of Sodom was associated with “… pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness”, Ezek. 16. 49. We must beware, as believers, of the gradual, insidious backsliding which can come about. A believer may become more “broad-minded” as the years go by, and depart from the path of separation which was followed in early days. We read that “… all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”, 2 Tim. 3. 12. As a believer ceases to live a life which is separated from the world, and to God, he finds that persecution diminishes and so further backsliding is encouraged. If the believer stays on the downward path he will become less sensitive to sin and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and the slide will continue.
The believer may guard against evil in one form but succumb when he is tempted with evil in a different and more subtle form. Success in wordly matters can sometimes result in a believer failing to be in communion with God. This leads to a laxity in spiritual things and a gradual backsliding accompanied by diminishing spiritual discernment.
Ahab enticed Jehoshaphat and encouraged an even closer liaison between them, 2 Chron. 18.2. Ahab persuaded Jehoshaphat to join with him to recover Ramoth-gilead. The recovery of Ramoth-gilead, one of the cities of refuge, Deut. 4. 43, from the Syrians might have appeared to be a good course of action, and yet Jehoshaphat should not have joined affinity with Ahab to achieve this result. We have no excuse to join with the world, or use worldly methods, to achieve what may appear to us to be good and laudable results. If a believer is not in communion with God he will not know the difference between courses of action which are in the will of God, and religious or apparently good activities which are not of God.
Jehoshaphat was not in communion with God and did not consult God before agreeing to join with Ahab. He said “… I am as thou art…”, 2 Chron. 18. 3. He identified himself publicly with Ahab. Jehoshaphat also said “… and my people as thy people …”, 2 Chron. 18.3. We are not the only losers when we leave the path of separation, 2 Cor. 6. 17. We influence others in the assembly by what we do and where we go. We influence our children by what we say at home and what they see us do. Unbelievers are also influenced as they observe our way of life. Spiritual discernment is needed to lead a separated life, and this is only obtained through prayer, meditation in the Word of God and obedience. Jehoshaphat was a prominent man who had hitherto sought to serve God acceptably, and many people would follow him along the path he led them in his alliance with Ahab.
Jehoshaphat suggested that God be consulted only after he had determined his course of action and promised to join with Ahab, 2 Chron. 18. 4. The prophets Ahab consulted were Ahab’s prophets and not God’s prophets, 2 Chron. 18. 5-6. Jehoshaphat was now deeply involved with Ahab and was in the position of a believer who having compromised with the world has forgotten that “… the friendship of the world is enmity with God…”. James 4. 4.
Ahab’s four hundred prophets were deceived by a spirit, 2 Chron, 18. 21, but there was one “prophet of the Lord”, Micaiah, who spoke the truth from God, 2 Chron. 18. 13, and warned that the attempt to take Ramoth-gilead would end in disaster for Ahab, 2 Chron. 18. 16. As a result of maintaining his fearless, lone testimony, and speaking the truth Micaiah was struck and imprisoned, 2 Chron. 18. 23, 26, while Jehoshaphat sat looking on, having joined affinity with Ahab and accepted his hospitality.
In 2 Chronicles 18. 29 we learn that Ahab tried to take precautions against death and disguised himself before going into battle. Jehoshaphat however, at the suggestion of Ahab, went wearing his robes thereby being exposed to the attentions of the enemy. Jehoshaphat was mistaken for the king of Israel and attacked, verse 31. How tragic when a believer associates so closely with the world that the evidence suggests that there is no difference between him and those who are lost.
When Jehoshaphat cried out, the Lord in grace answered him and helped him. God caused the concerted attack on Jehoshaphat to cease. So it is in the life of a believer. If a believer backslides and drifts away from God, He will still respond, in grace, if the believer repents and calls on Him. God is constant, faithful and unchanging, “… he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself’, 2 Tim. 2. 13.
When Jehoshaphat cried out, verse 31, he cried to the Lord, that is, he cried to Jehovah, the one he knew by grace. It is as Lord He deals, in grace, with the redeemed. In the same verse we read that “… God moved them to depart from him”. As God (Elohim) He dealt with the Syrians. He controls all things.
God’s plan was worked out when a man shot an arrow without aiming at anyone in particular, verse 33. The arrow struck Ahab and later he died, as he had lived, showing no humility and no repentence. We read in 1 Kings 22. 38 that the “… dogs licked up his blood”. This was the fulfilment of the prophecy given in 1 Kings 21. 19. It is good to remember that nothing happens by chance. No matter what outward appearance may suggest, and no matter how self-sufficient evil men may appear to be, whether they are leaders of men or otherwise, God is in absolute control of all things at all times. His will is being worked out, for “… the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men”, Dan. 4. 17, 25, 32.
Jehoshaphat returned to his palace in Jerusalem in safety. God then reprimanded him through Jehu, 2 Chron. 19. 2, 3. Even the reprimand was tempered by grace, for Jehu said “Nevertheless there are good things found in thee…”. Jehoshaphat responded to the words spoken to him and endeavoured to lead back to God those he had led astray, verse 4. He “… set judges in the land”, verse 5, and showed in the words he spoke to them that he was repentant and had learned the folly of acting without knowing the fear of the Lord. He had learned the results of carelessness in the things of God and the tragic outcome of worldly associations. He could say “… let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts”, verse 7; and “Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good”, verse 11.
Jehoshaphat, at the time he “joined affinity with Ahab”, might have thought that his association with Ahab would have a beneficial effect on Ahab. Believers sometimes try to rationalize the unequal yoke on this basis. The truth was that his association with Ahab adversely affected Jehoshaphat and his people and also had repercussions after Jehoshaphat’s death, 2 Chron. 21. 1-6. Grace forgives us our sins…”, 1 John 1. 9, but “… he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption…”, Gal. 6.8. The results of our sins can be far reaching and can last long after we have been forgiven by God. Consider the effects of the sin of David with Bathsheba.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 20 we read of an invasion by the Moabites and Ammonites, and Jehoshaphat “… set himself to seek the Lord”, v. 3. Jehoshaphat had learned the meaning of the words “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths”, Prov. 3. 5. This time Jehoshaphat sought the Lord before taking action: he relied entirely on Him. Jehoshaphat led all Judah to seek the Lord and prayed “… we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee”, v. 12.
God gave Jahaziel a message for Jehoshaphat saying “Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s”, v. 15, and “… stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord…”, v. 17. On this occasion Jehoshaphat acted in the fear of the Lord and the result was that the Lord gave him victory, and he and the people returned to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord, with joy, v. 28.
If we read on through chapter 20, and trace the other references to Jehoshaphat, we get an insight into the life of a man who made mistakes in developing worldly associations on more than one occasion. He made three alliances with Israel-a marriage, a military and a commercial alliance, 2 Chron. 20. 35-37, and each of these alliances ended in disaster. A study of Jehoshaphat’s life shows that not only can we commit sins as we get older which we would have avoided in our younger days, but we can repeat the same mistakes as the years go by.
If we backslide and fail to lead a life separated from the world and to God we stand in danger of being unequally yoked together with unbelievers in marriage, social, business or religious alliances, and the result will be further backsliding, 2 Cor. 6. 14.
At certain times in his life Jehoshaphat did what is so easy for us to do-he compromised. However, we do not read of him worshipping the idols of Israel, and in fact he did a great deal to end the worship of idols in Judah. We do not read of Jehoshaphat denying God, or losing faith in God completely, and he always respected God’s prophets.
There are many lessons to be learned from the life of Jehoshaphat of whom the Spirit graciously says “… he walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the Lord”, 2 Chron. 20. 32. We can learn from Jehoshaphafs life that God is to be our only source of strength and help and that He alone can bless us. We can learn from this man’s life that we need to know the mind of God on all things. The mind of God is revealed to us as the Spirit speaks to us from the Word; and therefore the Word of God, as taught by the Holy Spirit, is to be our only source of guidance and the standard with which all things are to be compared.
If we study the life of Jehoshaphat we see the way in which an unseparated life, lived in disobedience to the will of God, will always result in sorrow. Conversely we see separation, obedience and dependence on God leading to victorious living, peace and joy.
The life of Jehoshaphat has been recorded in the Word of God for our warning, guidance and encouragement. As we see the mistakes he made and the circumstances leading up to those mistakes let us bear in mind the admonition “… let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”, 1 Cor. 10. 12.