‘How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!’
2 Sam. 1. 25. Although this was David’s lament over Saul, it might be a fitting summary of the early days of Jehoshaphat, but in a battle that was not military but spiritual.
Jehoshaphat started well. He sought to fortify Judah by securing her borders. He built castles and cities of store and surrounded himself with mighty men of valour: Adnah, Jehohanan, Amasiah, Eliada, and Jehozabad. He ‘walked in the first ways of his father David’, 2 Chr. 17. 3. Spiritually, he was obedient to the commandments of God and took away the high places and groves from Judah. He enjoyed the Lord’s presence and blessing. He sent his princes and Levites throughout all the cities of Judah to teach the people from the book of the law of the Lord. As a consequence, it is stated that ‘the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah’, v. 10. After such an auspicious start, what a future opened up for the kingdom of Judah!
But a king who starts well does not always continue well. As with Asa his father, so, it seemed, with Jehoshaphat. Paul warned Timothy, ‘But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition’, 1 Tim. 6. 9. In the case of Jehoshaphat it was when he ‘had riches and honour in abundance’ that he allied himself with Ahab. How strange that a man who, in the opening years of his reign, ‘strengthened himself against Israel’ should, in the middle part of his reign, join ‘affinity with Ahab’, one of Israel’s most infamous monarchs.
The lessons for us today are equally real and important. A good start does not ensure a faithful continuance. We each have a responsibility to remain close to the Lord and obedient to the word of God in our daily walk if we are to be preserved from error. To be spiritually complacent is to become extremely vulnerable. We should never underestimate our own weakness. It may be riches. It may be honour and status. The superlatives abound – Jehoshaphat’s riches and honour were in abundance, 2 Chr. 17. 5, he ‘waxed great exceedingly’, v. 12. It may be our seeming strength, surrounded by ‘mighty men of valour’, vv. 14, 16, 17. ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’, 1 Cor. 10. 12.
We often speak of the benefits of hindsight and this is equally true in the life of Jehoshaphat. There were signs that should have provided ample warning of the danger that he was in. He asked the question of Ahab, ‘Is there not here a prophet of the Lord?’ 2 Chr. 18. 6. Yet he failed to see the implications of the answer. The wise man said, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he’, Prov. 29. 18. If there was clearly so little vision in Israel, what was Jehoshaphat doing there, allied with Ahab? Equally, when the challenge of Micaiah the prophet rang out, ‘If thou certainly return in peace, then hath not the Lord spoken by me’, 2 Chr. 18. 27, should there not have been a sense of foreboding? Even Ahab’s desire to disguise himself when he went into battle did not sound the alarm in Jehoshaphat’s ear. How impervious we can become!
Finally, in the midst of the battle against the king of Syria, Jehoshaphat realized the enormity of his folly and his plight – he ‘cried out, and the Lord helped him’, v. 31. After the death of Ahab in the battle, Jehoshaphat was brought back to his senses and ‘returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem’, 19. 1. He had learned a salutary lesson, as Jehu the son of Hanani told him! What sort of ‘wake up’ call do we need to arrest us, to check us in our folly? While there is a testimony to the foolishness of man there is also a testimony to the goodness and grace of God!
Thankfully, failure does not have to be final. We see in the latter years of king Jehoshaphat a chastened and a largely wiser man. He brought the people ‘back to the Lord God of their fathers’, v. 4. He set judges in the land and instructed them to operate in the fear of the Lord, vv. 7, 9. He linked the priesthood and the Levites with the judges to ensure ‘the judgment of the Lord’ would prevail. However, it was when the children of Moab and the children of Ammon came against Judah that we see Jehoshaphat’s finest hour.
When he had gone out with Ahab to fight against Syria there had been only Micaiah to act as prophet and reveal the mind of the Lord. Here, Jehoshaphat ‘set himself to seek the Lord’, 20. 3. He united the nation ‘to ask help of the Lord’, and they came ‘out of all the cities of Judah’, v. 4. Standing in the house of the Lord, it is Jehoshaphat that leads the prayers. How this demonstrates the power for good of spiritual leaders!
Jehoshaphat had grown in his knowledge and appreciation of the God that had blessed him. He spoke of, because he had proved, the awesome power of God, v. 6. He delighted in the covenant-keeping God who dwelt amongst His people, vv. 7-8. He acknowledged a God who had heard and answered prayer, v. 9. He rejoiced in the terms of the covenant, that God had given the land to His people, v. 11. But Jehoshaphat also had a clearer understanding of his own plight, ‘We have no might against this great company … but our eyes are upon thee’, v. 12.
There may be those today who have failed and their folly has been a salutary lesson in their relatively tender spiritual lives. Let us grasp the lesson of the life of Jeshoshaphat – there is a way back and the grace of God that has saved us is able to restore us. The key to the return of the king is given us in the words of Jehu, the son of Hanani, ‘Thou … hast prepared thine heart to seek God’, 19. 3. The evidence of that fact is before us in the verses of chapter 20 that we have just considered. Complacency has been replaced with confidence in God – a God that he has come to know in a real way. Coupled with Jehoshaphat’s growing knowledge of God comes a deeper appreciation of himself. Like Paul, he could say, ‘Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong’, 2 Cor. 12. 10. But, sadly, at the close of his life Jehoshaphat repeated the same mistake when he joined ‘himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who did very wickedly’, 2 Chr. 20. 35. It might be said that when Jehoshaphat considered himself strong he was at his weakest. In reality it should be in the midst of our weakness that we realize the power of God and give Him the glory for all that He is able to accomplish in us and through us.
As we draw our brief study of Jehoshaphat to a close, it is worth pondering the implications of the historical record for our collective lives as companies of the Lord’s people. Have we experienced what Judah experienced, ‘Then … came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation’, 20. 14? When was the last time we felt that the Spirit of God was at work in our midst? We have looked at what was in the heart of Jehoshaphat, indicating the spiritual condition of those that lead. We can note that the king ‘stood in the congregation’ and was identified as an integral part of it. But there is also evidence of the heart of the people as a whole, ‘all Judah stood before the Lord with their little ones, their wives, and their children’, v. 13. What a sight! Here is a united people, men, women, and children, standing before the Lord in humble acknowledgement of the truth of the words of the king and in complete dependence upon God. This is the ground for blessing! The cry goes out, ‘Stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord’, v. 17. As we seek the blessing of God in the gospel and in the building up of the assembly, are we united? Equally, if, in His grace, God has chosen to bless us, do we, like Jehoshaphat and all Judah, fall before the Lord to worship and stand up to praise the Lord with a loud voice, vv. 18-19?