After years of decline following the death of Solomon, the spiritual life of Judah began to prosper once again under Asa and his son Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat is one of the truly great reforming kings of Judah. Significant space is given to his reign, indicative of his profound and gracious influence. In the Kings who reigned since the death of Solomon he comes third in spiritual influence following Hezekiah and Josiah. His is the life and ministry of a man of God, who is truly worthy of consideration.
He was a man with feet of clay, however.
Hence the title – Compromise & Reformation
He reformed the spiritual condition of his people, following on from his father Asa, but like his father he failed and those failings too had far reaching influences.
Jehoshaphat’s reign and ministry, is one that we ought to consider with great solemnity because within the hearts of God’s best servants, there is compromise and backsliding. Rather than provoking us to point the accusing finger the record of Jehoshaphat causes us to examine our own hearts.
It is my prayer that this sketch study of King Jehoshaphat would have such an effect upon our souls.
1: His Promising Beginning; 2nd Chronicles 17
Jehoshaphat’s early years were marked by a holy and godly sincerity. Being compared to the beginnings of David’s reign, a high commendation indeed, there is an emphasis upon his heart:
“And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; But sought to the LORD God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel. Therefore the LORD stablished the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance. And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the LORD: moreover he took away the high places and groves out of Judah.” (3-6)
Jehoshaphat is a recognised as the greatest of Judah’s pastoral kings owing to the systematic manner with which he had the people instructed:
“Also in the third year of his reign he sent to his princes, even to Benhail, and to Obadiah, and to Zechariah, and to Nethaneel, and to Michaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah. And with them he sent Levites, even Shemaiah, and Nethaniah, and Zebadiah, and Asahel, and Shemiramoth, and Jehonathan, and Adonijah, and Tobijah, and Tobadonijah, Levites; and with them Elishama and Jehoram, priests. And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the LORD with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people.” (7-9)
Therefore Jehoshaphat had a vision for the entire nation, that they would be taught and established in the law of God, and he was mightily blessed. In so doing he reflected his name which means “The LORD is judge” and was a harbinger of the New Testament age when preachers would be sent forth teaching God’s truth to a dying world.
2: His Premeditated Backsliding; 2nd Chronicles 18
His actions in Ch.18, in forming an alliance is inexplicable. He had no intention of becoming influenced by Ahab’s apostasy but in the final analysis this is what happened.
“When God’s people associate with apostasy, they will always compromise their witness. Jehoshaphat presents us with a very pathetic picture in this chapter…When we once associate with apostasy, we shall find ourselves associating with it again and again until its influence over us far outweighs our influence over it”2nd Chronicles, A House of Prayer, Andrew Stewart
Ahah was facing a conflict with the Syrians and Jehoshaphat was persuaded to help because Israel and Judah were one people with one ancestry. But Jehoshaphat forgot one important fact – the peoples were divided; it was not God’s will to reunite the nation once again.
Furthermore Ahab was an ungodly murderous wretch who had persecuted and attacked God’s people, as well as being guilty of introducing Baal worship to the Kingdom. Jehoshaphat is noticeably uneasy as the prophets of Ahab come in to forecast victory calling for a prophet of Jehovah. He then watches as Miciah, the faithful servant is beaten as he foretells defeat and disaster.
Red warning lights were flashing all over the place but still Jehoshaphat goes into battle.
Clever Ahab persuades naive Jehoshaphat to dress as the leader whereas he assumed the garment of the foot soldier. Even so, this was Ahab’s day of reckoning and it was he died in the carnage that ensued. Jehoshaphat almost got killed in the battle but God stepped in to rescue His wayward servant:
“And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, It is the king of Israel. Therefore they compassed about him to fight: but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; and God moved them to depart from him.” (31)
Jehoshaphat was motivated by a false understanding of history and political ambition and it cost him dearly. It is a warning for us all to guard our associations, to maintain our separation. There is no situation that is worthy of compromise.
Over the whole affair, however, there was a God of mercy. How often has He not kept us from disasters of our own making?
3: His Preacher’s Bulletin; 2nd Chronicles 19
In the record of Jehoshaphat’s life Jehu the seer represents every courageous and faithful servant of God:
“And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD. Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God.” (2-3)
Jehoshaphat responded to this rebuke in the best possible fashion. He redoubled his efforts and continued with the work of spiritual reform sending his priests into the nation to teach the people.
What really tests our spirit is not the fact that we are rebuked because there are times we all require a word of chastening. The true test is found in our response. Have we the humility and grace to change; to admit that we need to be changed? Are we willing to repent and turn unto the Lord accepting the truth of God for our own hearts?
4: His Prayerful Battle; 2nd Chronicles 20:1-34
Spiritually both Jehoshaphat and his people were prepared for the greatest challenge of their generation. Alarming news filtered through to Jerusalem of a mighty alliance marching towards them.
We will all face alarming news throughout the course of a lifetime; only serious consecration to God can prepare us for these challenges.
Jehoshaphat responded by calling the people to prayer. His public petition presented on that solemn occasion is an example to us as to how we should pray for our people:
“And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, And said, O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever? And they dwelt therein, and have built thee a sanctuary therein for thy name, saying, If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help. And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and mount Seir, whom thou wouldest not let Israel invade, when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them, and destroyed them not; Behold, I say, how they reward us, to come to cast us out of thy possession, which thou hast given us to inherit. O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee. And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” (5-13)
As the king prayed a man of God from the tribe of Levi steps forward full of the spirit of God revealing that God had answered the King’s prayer with a word from heaven. This is one of the key features of Jehoshaphat’s tenure – the role of the priests as a ministering class bringing God’s truth to the people.
“Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation;And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you. And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD.” (14-18)
It was a strange company that went out to battle, a company that sang and rejoiced believing that the victory was theirs. When they arrived at the enemy camp they discovered that the alliance had fallen apart and the soldiers had slaughtered each other. God gave confusion and granted deliverance. The battle had not been fought with weapons or intrigue but through prayer. Not one principle was violated and no ground was surrendered. The honour and glory of God was vindicated.
Whatever battle you are facing dear reader at home, at work or in society – prayer is your greatest weapon – use it well and use it wisely.
5: His Published Breakdown; 2nd Chronicles 20:35-37
The inspired Chronicler, however, was an honest man who concealed nothing in his pursuit of truth.
“And after this did Jehoshaphat king of Judah join himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who did very wickedly: And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish: and they made the ships in Eziongeber. Then Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the LORD hath broken thy works. And the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish.” (35-37)
Old sins die hard and often rear their heads. Jehoshaphat at the end of his reign found himself once again in an alliance, for political and economic reasons, with the house of Ahab. But the endeavour did not prosper.
Let us today look inward and find our sins, let us remember our past follies – they are already snapping at our heels. With humility may God give us the grace to repent and seek Him for forgiveness and restoration.
Overall the record of Jehoshaphat’s reign is commendable. God does not allow our opinion of him to be ruined by his indiscretions:
“And 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.” (32)
We are often guilty of eulogising God’s people into a place of heroic perfection or of denigrating their memory because of one failing or another.
The truth is – we are all flesh and blood. Let learn this lesson and learn it well.
Above all may we learn to look to the one perfect man, Christ Jesus our Lord, who will never be a disappointment. In so doing we will run with patience the race that is set before us.